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Fear of Earning Less Than Their Wives Is Enough to Push Men to Support Trump

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Newsflash: Men’s egos are even more fragile than we thought.

According to research published Tuesday in the Harvard Business Review, just the idea of earning less than their wives is enough to change men’s behavior—and could even push them to support Donald Trump.

Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, partnered with some of his colleagues to embed an experiment in a New Jersey political poll. He asked one unusual question of married or cohabiting respondents: Did they earn more, less, or about the same as their spouses? Half of 694 respondents (all registered voters) were asked the question earlier in the survey, while the other half got it at the end.


Cassino and his colleagues chose this question because it cuts to the heart of traditional ideas about masculinity. Historically, being a man has been meant being a breadwinner. Have today’s men gotten over that stereotype? Or would raising the specter of a earning less than their partners affect how male participants answered the remaining survey questions?

It turns out that being out-earned is still scary to men. Men who got the earnings question early on in the survey—putting it front and center in their minds—were far more likely to say that they preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical presidential election match-up, choosing Trump by an eight-point margin. But when the earnings question came later in the survey, after the respondent had already answered the majority of the questions, men chose Clinton by a 16-point margin.

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To help ensure that the researchers were measuring the effect of gender rather than party, they also asked the same question using a Trump-Bernie Sanders matchup. They found no statistically significant difference between the responses of men who got the earnings question early and those who got it late.

In the HBR article, Cassino points out that this experiment mirrors earlier research that he conducted with his wife, Yasemin Besen-Cassino. In that paper, the pair looked at the way different-sex couples’ earnings affect who does the housework. They found that couples who earn the same amount tend to do a similar amount around the house, while when earnings are unequal—regardless of who earns more—men do less housework than their wives.