Management for X is not doing X.
I'm an engineer, if someone is a coder, architect, doctor... whatever else, all of us are being paid to do what we're good at and what we like to do.
I like doing research and I like solving engineering type puzzles. If I go up to middle management I no longer get to do that.
It's also not the case that "doing a job" is always the less stressful enterprise. I work far more than 40hr/week. I don't know of any senior engineer, doctor, lawyer or whatever else that doesn't either.
Also, I disagree with the statement that more employers is always good.
Sure passion always plays a role in what you want to do/be but doesn't always make for the better decision. If you like what you do and you can get by with the pay then thats a fine goal you have set for yourself. But sometimes I think you have to overlook your passion if you want to move up in life. By your standards if someone is passionate about art and they like to paint but doesnt make a dollar off of it then its ok because they are doing what they like. Maybe I was raised different I look at work as you go 100% and you make your way as far as you can go never settle in the middle to lose out on an opportunity that could take your further in life. While I agree to some degree that you have to like what you do I think far to many people get themselves stuck and can never move out of the rut. I also think its way the wage gap has grown considerably you have people no longer willing to sacrifice a little to move up a little.
Specialists, when they attain a certain level of skill and experience are FAR more valuable than the odd manager. Also, if you honestly think that there's no progression or advancement for people with high skill sets other than management you are an idiot.
If we're speaking about the western world here, you have to make some real bad life choices to be outright fucked. It's not a question of survival or meeting ones needs, it's a question of what can you afford.
The reason for the wage cap and the apparent stagnation of the american market is more to do with the fact that after the war, America held a monopoly over the most lucrative businesses around the world, due to their other contenders being bombed to shits. A baby boomer from 50 years ago, when he entered the job market, had to compete with other American enterprises. A kid entering the job market now competes with the world.
P.S. And no the environment I was brought up in was very much similar to yours. "A soldier that doesn't want to become a general is a bad soldier" was something I've had to listen to more than once. While it is not the same thing verbatim, the sentiment is however close.