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The Nostalgia of the Past and The Anxiety of the Future.
Traditional living continues to flourish, even among the younger generations.
In the last few years, perhaps accelerated by Covid and its mandates, there seems to be a renaissance of appreciating a simpler and perhaps more traditional living, while drawing away from modern life, at least to a certain extent. Americans were already moving out of big cities pre-covid, and that trend continued, primarily because of house unaffordability, safety concerns, and the rising cost of living. Most families with children do not want to live in large metropolitan areas, but many continue to do so because higher-paying jobs are frequently located there.
The pandemic changed this pattern, with Texas and Florida offering a very competitive job market, and a more reasonably priced real estate market.
Per the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida (318,855), Texas (230,961), and the Carolinas – North Carolina (99,796) and South Carolina (84,030) – were the states with the most net domestic migration gains in 2022. Florida was the fastest-growing state in 2022, with an annual population increase of 1.9% within a year. That was the first time since 1957 that Florida’s population grew faster than anywhere else across the United States.
California (-343,230), New York (-299,557), and Illinois (-141,656) experienced the largest net domestic outmigration.
Even while Florida is among the top destinations for Americans moving out of big cities, the trend continues inside Florida, with bigger counties like Miami-Dade presenting a net population loss (0.8% loss from 2020-2022) as opposed to other Florida counties.
Virtually all of Florida grew in population, except in predominantly urban areas, with some less populated counties on the west coast of Florida gaining as much as 7% new residents. One can cautiously see a trend here of avoiding concrete jungles in favor of suburban and rural areas. It’s not just the real estate or job market that is drawing people back to small cities, but a desire to leave the rat race, to live a simpler, quieter, and more family-focused life.
Certain aspects come along with living in smaller cities, one of them is the embracing of wisdom and tradition. The word “tradition”, from the Latin traditionem, means "a delivering up, surrender, a handing down” of knowledge and skills from one generation to another. Curiously, we seem to be simultaneously the most technologically advanced society ever, and also one of the most nostalgic ones, with many searching for a return to the days of old, at least to some part of those days.
The data on the moving patterns of Americans, which rely on real estate analysis, job market, and van rental information among others, is also accompanied by a growing trend of rising social media content focusing on the “old days”, namely with traditional wives and homestead living. Granted, homestead living is nothing new, but the increased demand for this particular topic, be it books, workshops, conferences, or buying land, seems to indicate that this renaissance is not fleeting but will continue to sprout and grow.
The term “trad wife”, short for traditional wife, is the very first suggestion on Google once you type in the word “trad” - that’s how popular the term has become, which was probably unheard of nearly one year ago. In TikTok alone, the trad wife content has amassed nearly 200 million views. I cannot overstate how popular this trend has become, with countless opinion articles, news articles, and social media posts opining about it.
Traditional wives according to this movement, are in a traditional marriage, and choose to stay home and take care of the children while the husband is the main provider for the family. Traditional gender roles are emphasized, and both wife and husband are happy to take them on. There is a growing audience for this content, younger generations like GenZ and Millenials are increasingly drawn to this lifestyle, and report that they feel happier at home than at the corporate office. It’s not just women seeking a more traditional style, men apparently thrive being the main breadwinner and report increased levels of stress when their wives take on the role of main provider. According to a study by the University of Bath’s School of Management, men reported the lowest levels of psychological distress when their wives kicked up to 40 percent of household income, which the author of the study called “the sweet spot.” Once the wives began earning more than 40 percent of the total income, the husbands’ stress levels gradually increased.
Now, online life and real everyday life are distinct and I am not suggesting that there is some massive wave of women quitting their jobs - the data points inversely, with women participating in the U.S. labor force at about the same levels as pre-pandemic.
I am however suggesting this trend is a sign of a deeper phenomenon, perhaps a desire to embrace a life radically different than what is possible for many, who are stuck in jobs they hate, but that pay the bills. Societal pressure abounds for women to never rely solely on a man, so even if a growing number of women would like to embrace a more traditional role, many are met with disapproval and warnings about the high probability of divorce.
A quick search online will bring out a barrage of articles cautioning everyone against the “dark past” of staying home and caring for the family - Something that was happening in nearly every family just 2 or 3 generations ago.
This post is not an apologia for the trad wife movement, but a shining of light on the emergence of this movement and the strong reaction is seems to draw from opposite sides of society. Liberals despise the idea of women ever depending solely on their husbands and choosing to stay home to raise the kids, while conservatives see this as the only ideal family model.
This lifestyle renaissance is merely a symptom of a deeper issue - a dissatisfaction with modern life in its many forms, corporate offices without a window, round-the-clock schedules, productivity trackers, barely seeing your family, etc. Persisting year after year stuck in a life of dread, constantly dragging our feet, will inevitably have negative consequences on us and those around us, who can sense our dread and choose instead a different approach to life.
The string that connects the trad wife movement with the back-to-the-land homestead movement is a desire for a simpler life, but it’s also an ever-present nostalgia of the past and a growing suspicion of the future.
“Homestead”, an increasingly common term that refers to owning land and cultivating it for the subsistence of the family, is the “live off-the-land” dream. There is an increasing presence online of homesteaders who document their everyday life among chickens they raise themselves, butter they churn, and meals made with ingredients from their own backyard. Their audiences are quite significant and increasing rapidly. An emphasis is placed on producing and not merely consuming, as is often the case in large cities, but many of these homesteaders have successfully created lucrative businesses, selling honey, workshops, and farm-to-table subscription boxes. If there was no market demand for this content, it would not be expanding as fast as is.
I remember being a child, about 10-12 years old, and asking my parents if I could spend the weekend at my grandma’s house in the country. My grandma’s way of living was very far from today’s “back-to-the-land” social media accounts, who made their choice on their own and probably wouldn’t have starved if the potato harvest hadn’t come through one year; my grandma had a very humble life, a small house, and grew potatoes and carrots along with some rabbits and chickens. The neighbor’s small houses had their doors mostly unlocked, and often wide open. They would talk with each other on their way passing the unpaved street, and kids always roamed around playing with a kitten or rabbit. Life was simple but not without hardship.
These nostalgic movements are actually quite similar. They are wrapped up in a positive emotional connection to past events, or even a desire to perfect and relive our grandparents lives. These feelings of nostalgia tend to emphasize mainly positive memories while minimizing negative ones. An anxious suspicion of what lies ahead, of the unknown future and technological advances, also comes along with that same nostalgia.
As with many trends and movements, there is always a risk of losing common sense and adopting extreme positions on either side. A desire for a family focused life doesn’t have to mean living in a hut cast away from society, nor does it mean that such a goal is impossible in a city, although judging from migratory patterns in the US, it does seem that many are shying away from it, opting instead for a simpler life.
An online search for the term “simple life”, results inevitably in images of people in nature, be it the beach, the forest, woods, or mountains - Our surroundings are connected to our perception of our life and it turns out, that many don’t like being surrounded by buildings, and constant noise.
This expression has always stuck with me, I forget who said it: Many search for a quieter life because we are human beings, not human doings.