Can Men Still Bring Home the Bacon?

(Photo by Getty Images.)

A powerful fusion of cultural and economic nostalgia emerged following Donald Trump’s victorious 2016 presidential campaign. That year, three-fourths of Trump supporters believed that “for people like you,” life was better 50 years earlier. A common thread runs through various strains of the populist right: the view that the traditional family has deteriorated because of economic pressures that policymakers have either neglected or worsened through trade, immigration, and other policies that benefit elites at the expense of the working and middle classes.

This dual nostalgia comes through in the view that “you should be able to raise a family on one single income,” in the words of Blake Masters, whose bid for a U.S. Senate seat fell short in November. Masters laments in one campaign video, “We used to be able to do this. Something happened—globalization, decades of inflation. You can’t really do it anymore.”

Populist nostalgia also manifests itself in the belief, held by many social conservatives, that the decline in two-parent families reflects the deteriorating “marriageability” of men. According to this view, fewer children grow up with two parents because men no longer earn enough to make marriage worthwhile in the eyes of women. For example, in an essay for American Compass, my AEI colleague, Brad Wilcox, writes that while women continue to “prefer to marry a man who is a decent breadwinner,” 

a growing share of men without college degrees no longer meet this bar. With few ‘marriageable’ men employed in the kinds of decent-paying occupations that make them attractive as potential husbands, marriage has slipped out of reach for far too many poor and working-class Americans.

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