This article was originally published in City Journal on October 23, 2023.

Nostalgia for a time when families thrived on a single income is widespread. In 2021, for instance, former Labor secretary Robert Reich guest starred on an episode of The Simpsons about America’s “vanishing middle class.” Promoting the episode on Twitter, he claimed that the Simpsons’ lifestyle—where high school graduate Homer works and his wife Marge stays at home—was no longer possible for many American families. Similarly, in a recent address to the Western Conservative Summit, Senator Josh Hawley said, “I want to see an American economy where you can raise a family on a single income. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.”

These concerns are not unfounded. Two-earner families struggle with the stress of juggling jobs, raising children, and keeping up with everyday tasks. For those parents working traditional nine-to-five jobs, everyday tasks come with tight margins. Something as simple as picking up the children from school becomes a complex web of delegation and schedule management, prompting families to introduce Asana boards and Google calendars to the grandparents so that parents can complete the workday. It’s no wonder folks wistfully look back to the Leave it to Beaver age.

If our parents or grandparents could manage with a single income, why can’t we? Diagnoses and solutions vary according to political beliefs. Robert Reich would point to the high union membership and high relative minimum wages as the key to mid-twentieth century success. On the right, Hawley and others cite an increasingly dense regulatory web and higher tax rates that have stalled economic growth, forcing both parents into the labor market.

Claudia Goldin, winner of the 2023 economics Nobel, presents a different view. Goldin has studied how and why women participate in the labor force. Her research, combining deep archival scholarship and cutting-edge quantitative methods, suggests that high wages—not low ones, like Reich and Hawley believe—account for the predominance of two-income families today.

Full article here.