Back in the day, a husband could moderately support his family on a middle-management salary while the wife stayed at home with the children, as seen in the television shows of the 50s and 60s. Today, with wages not having kept pace with increased housing, healthcare, food and tuition costs, this scenario has become more of the exception than the rule. And yet, modern day television sitcoms just don’t seem to get it.
Unless the show is about a working class or minority family, shows like the Simpsons, According to Jim, Til’ Death and Family Guy continue to portray middle-class families that are solely dependent on one income. If the Simpsons were a real-life family today, they would be homeless. They would be on the street. Period. There’s no way that their basic needs would be met on Homer’s job at a power plant. He probably would have been laid off and eventually their house would have been foreclosed upon.
Even before the recession of the last few years, only upper-income families really had the luxury to experience stay-at-home-mom-dom. For the average middle class family, even if the mother wanted to stay at home with the kids, she found herself eventually having to go back to work or work on a part-time basis to supplement the husband’s salary. In 1950 about one in three women participated in the US labor force. By 1998, nearly three of every five women of working age were in the US labor force. A few recent shows, such as Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle, seem to wrestle with the double-income phenomenon although they appear to present an idealized image of the “woman who can do it all” – be fashionable, gorgeous, a wife, a mother and a successful career woman on the move. Television does not have to completely mirror our world but it would be nice if it were close.
Maybe television shows are trying to hearken back to another time - a simpler time - when families didn’t have to juggle work schedules, the search for affordable and quality child care, exorbitant housing and healthcare costs, tuition bills and the gender roles were clearly defined. Or maybe, like deserving salaries, they’re still stuck in the 1950s.