Theory 108… Halloween Candy and Socioeconomics

Look around… the world has changed quite a bit in the last 25 years. We’ve got computers, smart phones, the Internet… and all sorts of technological conveniences that our parents (and grandparents) never dreamed about. While the conveniences are nice… I contend that the world is a more expensive place to live than it was 25 years ago. Things like tuition, health care, gasoline, and home prices have drastically increased over the past 25 years, whereas wages have remained stagnant.  We’re literally to the point now where a smart phone costs less than a college textbook… I can only imagine how much more expensive things will be in 15-20 years as my own kids reach adulthood!

While our kids will undoubtedly have their economic challenges… it’s my theory that society is surely providing them huge advantages when it comes to HALLOWEEN CANDY!  Kids are scoring more and better candy today than ever before! Consider…

Just like socioeconomics… there are certain classes of Halloween candy. When I was a kid, Dum Dums, medium sized Tootsie Rolls, and Milk Duds were par for the course… essentially the “middle class” of Halloween candy.  Upper Middle Class candy included Tootsie Pops, and snack size candy bars (Kit Kat’s, Butterfinger’s, Hershey’s). The true “upper class” candy of my childhood were those single wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups… by the time I was a preteen, I packed an extra mask with me as I went Trick-or-Treating so that I could turn around and double dip without being detected at any home passing out those bright orange packs. Full size candy bars?  Forget about it… that was “gilded class”… the top 1% of the top 1%.   I scored maybe three full size candy bars during my whole Trick-or-Treat career… and two of them were from my Grandparents.  Meanwhile, lower-middle-class candy included Jolly Ranchers, smaller Tootsie Rolls, and Double Bubble gum.  The true lower class “ghetto” candy of my generation… Salt Water Taffy, Smarties, and Candy Corn.
Fast forward 20+ years… I’m pretty impressed, even jealous, of my kids Halloween candy stash.  Smarties and Candy Corn… nowhere to be found!  While bad candy hasn’t been completely eradicated (I did find a couple of pieces of Salt Water Taffy), there’s considerably less of the lower and lower-middle-class candy at the bottom of the bag.  The cheap stuff my kids will be picking through a week from now are the Milk Dud’s and Tootsie Pop’s… stuff I’d have considered pretty decent as a kid.  On the other end of the spectrum, all of my kids scored two or three full size candy bars… absolutely unheard of in my day… even if you went up into the “rich” neighborhood! But by far the most surprising to me is the proliferation of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups… clearly this is the new “middle class” of Halloween candy.  Tonight, my 7 year old daughter hauled in 17 Reeses PB Cups…  that would have been a record akin to the 4-minute-mile during my pre-pubescent trick-or-treating heyday of 1988-1990!

What’s to learn from all of this? Well… clearly there are reasons why my kids have better candy in their bag than I did a generation ago.  Some might argue there’s a correlation between the actual socioeconomics of a neighborhood and the quality of candy that’s distributed… while I surely believe there’s some correlation… I don’t know how perfect it is (some studies show that poor people apparently buy lots of junk food, whereas The Millionaire Next Door is likely to be a stingy S.O.B. who will take pride in handing out Smarties) Plus, up until this last year, my kids canvassed the exact same neighborhood where I grew up… and I can assure you the House-To-Reese’s ratio is much more favorable now then it was two decades ago. Realistically I think Costco has something to do with it… the marketers at Mars and Hershey’s are more clever at packaging big bundles of candy these days, and finding a way to put it right in front of our faces at discount grocery such as Costco and Walmart. After all, it’s easier for us to just buy the monster bag of Halloween candy on the end-shelf rather than hunt for cheapest stuff on the candy aisle (much the same way it’s easier to buy those big packages of fireworks around the 4th of July).  Perhaps someday a PhD student at some university can write a thesis on the effects gentrification has on the distribution of Milk Duds in communities with a big box retailer. Now that’d be an interesting read!

Until then… I can only imagine that 20+ years from now, on a Halloween night… I’ll have a great story to tell my kids about how “back in my day” I had to work hard for my candy… trick-or-treating in the cold, up hill (both ways), all for some Smarties and half-a-dozen Reeses PB cups.  When the story’s over, we might enjoy a cup of cider, talk about the upcoming election, then I’ll give my kids a hug as they leave and go home…  which could very well be the downstairs bedroom.