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An average family? Meet the Simpsons

Sean Cole May 26, 2008

An average family? Meet the Simpsons

Sean Cole May 26, 2008


Tess Vigeland: We mentioned at the top of the show that we’re going to focus on the home. Many of us are spending the holiday in ours.

Did you know that the average new house in this country has doubled in size since the 1950s? Well, we wondered what would happen if everybody in the world consumed like the “average” American family?

We sent Marketplace’s Sean Cole to find that family.

Sean Cole: Because what American family could possibly be more average, more consumerific than…

[Clips from “The Simpsons”:] Give me 700 Krusty burgers! I’m old; gimmie gimmie gimmie! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?

Sadly, they’re also fictional — I was going to have to find a real family. The real Simpsons. And if you Google the phrase “the real Simpsons,” you’ll find the Web site of Dan Simpson.

Dan Simpson: Come on in, Sean.

Cole: Hey, folks.

Simpson family: Hi!

He lives about 25 miles outside LA with his wife Dena and their daughters Anna and Christa…

Dan Simpson: Or also known as Marge, Lisa and Maggie.

There’s a Bart too: Dan’s son Micah, who’s in Hawaii now. Anna goes to a local college. Christa’s still in high school and just like Lisa in the show, she plays the saxophone, which is probably what sold me on them, even though Dan kept telling me over and over before my visit “we’re not really your average consumers.”

Dan Simpson: This is our humble little abode.

Dan showed me around while my colleague Joellen Easton asked the other Simpsons about their consuming habits.

Joellen Easton: We’re about halfway through, so it won’t take too much longer.

The survey basically helps her estimate how many acres’ worth of the Earth’s resources a given person consumes. It’s broken it up into four main categories. Number one:

[Clip:] Oh, it’s great to be indoors with my family.


Cole: How big is your house?

Dan Simpson: A little less than 1,000 square feet.

…about half the size of the average new house in this country, so the real Simpsons use a lot less fuel and electricity than the average American. Dena said back in April, all of their utilities combined cost only 84 bucks.

Dena Simpson: Some people say that their electric alone is over $100. I go, “How do you do that? Ours is $30.” So they must really have a lot of electrical stuff or waste.

And waste is not what these Simpsons are about. They make a point of living modestly, mainly because they’re devout Christians. Dan works at a Pentecostal church in LA proper, which brings us to category number two: transportation.

Remember the episode where the Simpsons tried out that SUV, the Canyonero?

[Clip:] The Federal Highway Commission has ruled the Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving. Canyonero!

Well, the real Simpsons were driving the Canyoner-No.

Dan Simpson: That little Ford Escort is our car.

Cole: Oh.

If there’s no traffic, Dan can drive to work in 35 minutes, but he doesn’t — he spends at least three hours a day commuting on buses and trains. It’s his down time, he says.

Dan Simpson: So I like it. Plus, I’m able to keep a car off the road, which for me is a good value when it comes to global warming, all those things.

Cole: So that’s important to you?

Simpson: It is.

Dena works at the elementary school seven minutes up the road by foot, so between errands and taking the girls to school, they clock maybe 260 miles on the car a month, about a quarter of the national average.

[Clip:] Can I take your order?

Number three on the survey: food.

Dan Simpson: Shall we have dinner?

Meat and packaged food and eating out a lot use up more resources than, say, making a taco salad at home, though every Sunday after church, the real Simpsons head to a local Mexican restaurant or LA’s famous In-N-Out Burger.

Dan Simpson: I don’t prefer In-N-Out because I like my burgers flame-broiled.

Cole: It strikes me that y’all are more like the Flanderses than the Simpsons.

Dan didn’t take kindly to that — he says the neighbors of the TV Simpsons give Christians a bad name. Still, the real Simpsons love the fake Simpsons. They love TV in general… and movies and DVDs. Which brings us to the last category: goods and services.

Cole: When something breaks, do you try to fix it?

Dan Simpson: Doh!

They do usually try to fix it, except maybe where home entertainment is concerned.

Dan Simpson: We have, in our household, a television and DVD player in every room and if one them is broken, it gets replaced soon… immediately.

Which might be the only average-ish thing about them. Still, when my colleague Joellen crunched the survey numbers, the results were kind of startling: if everyone on the planet lived like the average person in this house, it would take about three planet Earths to sustain our population.

Anna and Christa Simpson: Whoa!

Dena Simpson: What more could we give up?

This is Marge… I mean, Dena.

Dena Simpson: I mean, I walk to work, we live in a teeny-tiny house, we don’t have central heating or air…

And yet their modest way of life, extrapolated across the population of the globe, would ultimately consume the globe, because a lot of their consuming is done for them by utility companies and transport lines and just the demands of a normal American life.

Still, the real Simpsons are doing pretty well. If everyone in the world consumed like the average American, we’d need about six Earths to sustain ourselves.

[Clip:] The way people act around here, you’d think the streets were paved with gold! They are!

I’m Sean Cole for Marketplace.

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