As Women Become Family Breadwinners, Their Husbands Turn Conservative

A Brief Lesson in How Fragile Masculinity Can Be


Since the last election cycle, when the United States almost saw its first woman president, we’ve seen a number of instances where strong female leaders have stood up against the status quo—and have subsequently (and swiftly) been reprimanded for it.

Just weeks ago, for example, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski broke with the Republican party to vote against proceedings to debate on a health care reform bill—and in doing so, drew criticism from the president via Twitter (no major surprise there). We also can’t forget when former acting Attorney General Sally Yates bravely refused to defend the president’s travel ban and was fired just a few hours later. Or that time Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King, criticizing then-Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, only to be shut down by Senate leadership.

Women’s rights advocates say this is par for the course in the political sphere: men lashing out to protect the patriarchy from us womenfolk. After all, research has shown that when men feel their gender identity is threatened, they feel compelled to do something about it.

With that knowledge, Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, decided to investigate how men’s political and social views change when they earn less money than their wives. In other words, how do men handle losing their primary breadwinner status?

Cassino analyzed the survey responses of 854 men who were interviewed for a sociological survey three times at two-year intervals between 2006 and 2010—around the time the US economy was tanking. For the purposes of his study, Cassino focused on participants’ shifting responses on support for abortion and support for government aid to African Americans.

Ultimately, he discovered that: “Republican men who contributed less to their household income than they did two years prior became significantly less supportive of abortion rights,” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “and the more income that they lost relative to their spouses, the more their support for abortion dropped.” For Democratic men, however, the research found that losing income actually made them, on average, more supportive of abortion rights. These results were similar for conservative and liberal men’s views on African-Americans receiving government support.

In a recent interview, Cassino puts his results in context. “Especially since the 2016 election, gender has taken on a much more obvious role in American politics, so conservative politics, or support for Trump, works as a way to assert individual masculine identity, as well as a belief in the general dominance of men over women,” he tells Brides. “Traditionally, being the breadwinner is an important part of masculine identity, so if you lose your job, or are left behind while your wife earns more, you’re perceived, or perceive yourself, to be failing.”

Cassino says he’s not sure women generally understand how fragile masculinity can be. “In almost every society, masculinity is something that has to be earned, and something that can be lost if the man doesn’t act the way that men in that culture are supposed to act. As a result, men are constantly on guard against threats to their masculinity. Men avoid using a urinal next to another man for the fear of being perceived as homosexual. They go to strip clubs in groups to assert their masculinity to other men. So much of their social behavior is designed to assert their masculinity to themselves, and to others around them.”

“As women start to catch up in society,” he continues, “we need to start redefining masculinity in a way that allows men more positive outlets, more ways to be men in a world where men don’t run everything.”

Related Stories