A Funny Thing Happens When Women Begin to Outearn Their Husbands

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While women continue to fight for their rightful place in the office, one where pay is fair and they are free from any form of harassment, their male spouses have something else in mind. New research published in the Harvard Business Review discovered that there’s a direct correlation between a man’s breadwinner status and his political views. The study, which looked at their views relative to their wives’ incomes, found that when a man is outearned by his wife, he grows more partisan — becoming more supportive of women’s rights in some cases, and growing more conservative on issues like abortion in others.

Any woman will tell you that a man compensating for a perceived threat to his masculinity is not exactly new behavior, but this new research shows what women are up against when they become breadwinners in their families, especially in the case of Republicans. Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, wrote about his discoveries for the HBR:

I found that Republican men who contributed less to their household income than they did two years prior became significantly less supportive of abortion rights, and the more income that they lost relative to their spouses, the more their support for abortion dropped. About a quarter of men lost 38% or more in relative income (dropping, for instance, from 70% of the family’s income to 32%), and men who saw an income drop of that magnitude dropped by an average of of 0.3 points on the eight-point abortion scale (respondents were asked about seven situations in which a woman might want an abortion, and their score went up by one point each time they responded that they would support a woman’s right to have an abortion under those circumstances). Men who lost more in relative income — those in the top 10% of income losses — saw bigger decreases: up to 0.8 points on the scale.

On the flip side, Democratic men reacted to their wives outearning them by becoming more supportive of abortion rights by a measure of about 0.5 points (on the eight-point scale). Though, Democratic men “who gained income relative to their spouses actually became less supportive,” so it’s not all flowers and rainbows there, either. In the same study, the research showed that Republican men became less supportive of government aid to African-Americans when their wives began to outearn them.

So what does it all mean? Men have a long way to go to reconcile how money impacts their self-worth and identity. As Cassino writes, “while it has been decades since most married women were homemakers, being the primary breadwinner in a household is still a big part of the gender identity of many American men. Money and work are about more than finances — they’re tied deeply to how people view themselves.”

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