Men’s views on key social issues—like abortion and government aid—change when they make more or less than their wives, according to a new study.
Research from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) has determined that relative income has a direct impact on a person’s political views—namely among men who, on average, earn less than their spouse. To conduct the study, researcher Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, surveyed the same 854 men up to three times, at two-year intervals between 2006 and 2010. Each time, he writes, the men were asked the same questions (their answers would reflect how their views altered in response to changes in their lives, according to Cassino).
Republican men who contributed less to their household income than they did in the past became less supportive of abortion rights, the study found. In other words, the more income they lost relative to their spouses, the more their support decreased. As Cassino explains, if a man went from providing 70% of the family’s income to just 32%, their support for abortion dropped by about 0.3 points on an eight-point scale. Those who were in the top 10% of income losses reported an even bigger loss of support: up to 0.8 points on the scale. Democratic men had an opposite stance: The more income they lost, the more they backed abortion rights (according to the study, they became about 0.5 points more supportive). Interestingly, however, the more money Democratic men made compared to their wives, the less supportive they were of abortion rights.
When it came to giving government aid to African Americans—another social issue that Cassino investigated—similar findings held true: Democratic men whose income dropped relative to their spouses became more supportive of giving government aid, while Republican men were less inclined to support this.
Overall, liberal men hold more liberal views on abortion when faced with a “gender role threat,” notes Cassino, and conservative men held more conservative views. But why? According to the study, it mainly has to do with a man’s personal conception of his masculinity. Losing income relative to their wives led liberal men, for example, to “conclude that they can’t define themselves through traditionally masculine roles, and led them to rebel against them as best they can,” Cassino writes in the study.
He continued: “Whatever the mechanism, more and more men will find themselves dealing with losing relative income as technological innovations increasingly displace male-dominated jobs, and men will need to find a way to define their identity in a way that doesn’t require that they earn more than their wives.”