The mere thought of earning less money than their wives can change how men act — and vote, according to new research.
Political science professor Dan Cassino and his colleagues at Fairleigh Dickinson University wanted to explore how potential threats to men’s masculinity might affect their preferences in current presidential candidates, so they embedded an experiment in a standard political survey of 694 New Jersey voters.
Half of married or cohabiting respondents were asked early on in the survey whether they earned more, less or the about the same as their spouses, and the other half was asked the same question toward the end of the survey.
“Being the breadwinner has been a linchpin of U.S. men’s masculinity for decades, so even the potential of making less than one’s spouse threatens accepted gender roles,” Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
It turns out the question’s placement in the survey changed who men preferred between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Of those men asked about their wives’ income late in the survey, Clinton was preferred as a presidential candidate by a 16-point margin. Men who had to face the specter of a spouse earning more early on in the survey, however, preferred Trump by an eight-point margin.
The researchers concluded that the 24-point swing had to do with gender because the spousal income question did not impact a matchup between Trump and Bernie Sanders. Men who were asked the question early preferred Sanders by four points, while men who were asked later preferred Sanders by three.
“Men were responding to a threat to their masculinity by saying they would prefer a man, rather than a woman, in a presidential race (especially a woman who has been a known gender nonconformist ever since she talked about how she refused to “stay home and bake cookies” almost 25 years ago),” Cassino said.