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Study: Men threatened by thought of their wives earning more

27 June 2016, 07:19Carmen Williams

A recent survey experiment carried out at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s (FDU) PublicMind poll shows just how quickly men will respond to a threat to their masculinity and status as the head of the house.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the experiment consisted of asking an unusual question embedded into a standard political survey. The survey asked men who were married or living with their partners if they earned less, more, or as much as their partners did. One half of the respondents were randomly chosen to receive this question early in the survey, while the other half only got it at the end.

Dan Cassino, professor of Political Science at FDU and director of experimental research for the survey, says the question was asked to push men to think about threats to their gender roles, not for the actual answers.

Asking the question led to quite big shifts in men’s political preferences

When asked about the upcoming US presidential election, the men who were asked about their income vs their spouse’s later on in the survey, preferred Hilary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 16-point margin in a hypothetical general election match up. The men who were asked the same question early on in the survey preferred Donald Trump by an eight-point margin – a shift in preference of 24 points.

But how do we know that this was about gender? Because the same question had no effect on how the participants felt about Bernie Sanders vs Trump.

Men have been told since the dawn of time that it is their job to be the provider and to take care of the family. When men are presented with the notion of earning less than their wives, it threatens preconceived gender roles and  actually makes men hostile towards women in powerful positions – especially a woman like Hillary Clinton who decided not to give up her career in favour of her husband’s political aspirations.

Men who earn less, do less

It isn’t just political beliefs that are affected by the threat of accepted gender roles being reversed – the division of household labour gets skewed too. In this paper published on About Gender, which focused on the division of household chores between married couples who were both earning a salary, it’s shown that men who make less than their wives do, do less house work. The greater the difference in income, the less chores the husband does.

You would think that if one partner earns less, and therefore makes less of a contribution to the household expenses, they would pick up the slack at home, right?

Wrong. Looks like if the woman is bringing home the bacon, she then has to fry it up, serve it, and clean up afterwards too. Could this be a way of making up for the fact that the wife has somehow hurt her husband’s ego by being the primary breadwinner? Are women trying to protect their husband’s masculinity by doing more of what are perceived as women’s responsibilities in the home?

But not all is lost

Even though Cassino’s survey experiment showed that threats to men’s masculinity made them less supportive of powerful women, there were some groups, particularly those with young liberal men, who showed greater support for Hillary Clinton after being asked the question earlier on in the survey.

Also, in the housework study, even though men spent generally less time doing housework, they did spend more time cooking – an activity which seems to have become more acceptable for men to do more of.

But what does this mean for relationships?

In an article for Planting Money Seeds, Miranda Marquit talks about the fact that she earns more than her husband does and that, while he sometimes gets teased by their neighbours, he’s still very open about who earns more money and is incredibly supportive of her career. Marquit does acknowledge, however, that not every relationship is like this.

According to The Atlantic, there is evidence to suggest that women who earn more are a lot less likely to get married. And if they do get married, they’re more likely to be unhappy within their marriage and more likely to get divorced.

No wonder so many women give up their careers or dial down their goals and aspirations in order to be a better wife and mother – this is, frankly, just sad. I wouldn’t want to live in a house and be part of a marriage that’s unhappy because I dared to try and be successful at my job. Why should my successful career mean that my home life has to suffer because of gender roles that were assigned to us all before we were even thought of?

Perhaps we need to talk about and change the fact that men still feel pressured by the ridiculous standards that have been imposed on them and how it affects their female partners. Perhaps we need to open a discussion about why we still seem to uphold these sorts of values instead of accepting that women are not just allowed to be successful, but have earned the right to be and do so.



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