A remarkable gender gap has opened up in Americans’ views of their own finances and the broader national economy.
Men feel better about the economy than they have in over a decade. Women are far more skeptical. And the sharp divide has emerged since President Trump was elected two years ago.
Nearly half of men — 47 percent — said their family’s finances had improved in the past year, according to a survey conducted for The New York Times in early October by the online research platform SurveyMonkey. Just 30 percent of women said the same, despite an unemployment rate that is near a five-decade low and economic growth that is on track for its best year since before the recession.
Asked how they expected the American economy to fare over the next five years, nearly two-thirds of men said they anticipated “continuous good times economically.” Women were more likely to expect “periods of widespread unemployment or depression.” The gaps remain even between men and women who are similar in age, race, education and income.
It isn’t clear how men’s and women’s diverging views of the economy will affect next month’s elections. There has historically been at most a loose connection between the state of the economy and midterm election results, and Mr. Trump’s signature economic policies poll poorly with swing voters. What is clear is that the gender divide — transcending party lines and voting preferences — is a striking departure from the past.
Polls by the Pew Research Center going back to the mid-2000s showed almost no gender gap on economic questions until Mr. Trump took office; since then, men have become significantly more confident, while women’s confidence has stalled.
The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey has long shown a small gender gap, but the divide grew after Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory and in December reached its widest point on record. The gap has since narrowed slightly but remains larger than before the election.
Kylie Pierce and Paul Weeldreyer are both 38, both college graduates and both steadily employed — Ms. Pierce as a grant writer for a local nonprofit, Mr. Weeldreyer as a contract worker for Comcast. Both are financially stable but have struggled to build up savings or buy a home.
But while their circumstances are similar, their views of the economy differ sharply. Mr. Weeldreyer, a Wisconsin native who lives in Denver, said the local job market was strong. To the extent that his finances aren’t where he would like them to be, he blames his own choices earlier in adulthood, not the economy more generally. He is confident in the future.
“It’s frustrating not being able to buy a house and stuff, but I guess I don’t lose sleep over it,” he said. “I guess it’ll work out.”
Ms. Pierce sees things differently. She says there are plenty of jobs where she lives in central New York State, but pay has lagged. She dreams of the day she can pay her bills the day they arrive, rather than stalling until payday.
“It’s gotten a lot harder to do the things that our parents may have done, buy the house and do all the American dream stuff,” she said. “Everything in my life seems to be getting more expensive, and my wages are the same.”
Ms. Pierce’s and Mr. Weeldreyer’s different perspectives may reflect at least in part different realities. Denver is in the midst of an economic boom. Rome, where Ms. Pierce lives, has seen a significant rebound in recent years but is still struggling compared with the country over all.
Their political views may also play a role. A registered Republican, Mr. Weeldreyer said he voted for Mr. Trump only reluctantly in 2016 and hadn’t made up his mind about how to vote in next month’s midterms. But he said the economy was “probably the one area where I would say the president is doing a good job.” Ms. Pierce is a member of the progressive Working Families Party and said she strongly opposed Mr. Trump’s agenda.
Indeed, partisanship explains part of the gender gap. Americans’ assessment of the economy has become increasingly closely tied to their political views in recent years. People who identify as Republicans and as supporters of Mr. Trump are far more likely to say the economy is performing well — and there are significantly more men than women in both groups.
Still, partisanship isn’t the whole story. Among men who said they “strongly approve” of Mr. Trump’s overall performance, 76 percent said their finances were better now than a year ago, according to the SurveyMonkey survey. That sentiment was expressed by just 65 percent of women who gave Mr. Trump strong overall marks. Other economic questions reveal a similar gap.
“Republican men are just more confident and more optimistic than even Republican women are,” said Laura Wronski, a research scientist for SurveyMonkey.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly promoted his economic record, and Republican strategists are hoping the strong economy will help hold off a potential “blue wave” of Democratic victories next month.
Still, the economy seems to be doing little to win over groups of women who could be crucial to Republicans’ chances. Ms. Wronski noted that college-educated suburban white women actually felt slightly worse about their finances than women over all — and far worse than similarly situated men. Perhaps not coincidentally, they also overwhelmingly said they planned to vote for Democrats in the midterms.
Diana Shue-Willis is exactly the kind of voter Republicans need to win over to keep control of the House. A college-educated Navy veteran in Virginia Beach, Ms. Shue-Willis is a registered Republican. Her husband works in manufacturing — a core source of support for Mr. Trump, and an industry that has experienced a rebound since he took office.
But Ms. Shue-Willis, 49, is pessimistic about the economy. She lost her house to foreclosure during the last recession and now worries that banks are repeating the mistakes that led to the financial crisis. She worries about the cost of health insurance, and about the jobs available for her daughter, who didn’t earn a high school diploma. She said that the construction industry, where she works, was slowing down, and that she didn’t believe the rosy economic figures she heard on the news.
“I think the unemployment rate they talk about on TV is misleading,” she said.
Ms. Shue-Willis said she wasn’t sure whom she would vote for next month. She isn’t impressed by her Republican congressman, Scott Taylor — or by almost anyone else in Congress, a group she called “a bunch of squabbling hypocrites.”
It isn’t clear what, beyond partisanship, is driving the gender divide on the economy. Men have not notably outperformed women in their economic fortunes since Mr. Trump took office. Women have, if anything, received a slightly disproportionate share of jobs, and the pay gap for full-time workers narrowed slightly last year.
But hiring has been especially strong in male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing, construction and mining, noted Jed Kolko, chief economist for the job-search site Indeed. That growth, Mr. Kolko said, may be making men more optimistic — particularly because those same sectors had been in a long slump.
“We are in this unexpected and perhaps temporary moment where job growth is faster on average in traditionally male-dominated jobs,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Kolko said, probably have little to do with the blue-collar rebound. But that may not matter. Amber Wichowsky, a political-science professor at Marquette University, said that during the Obama administration, white men — particularly those without a college degree — reported feeling that their social status was eroding. Now that might be reversing.
“Their guy’s in office, the economy’s doing well, it’s an even bigger shot in the arm,” Ms. Wichowsky said. “The psychology’s really important.”
Even with the unemployment rate under 4 percent, however, millions of Americans are stuck in part-time or low-paying jobs, and many families have barely begun to recover from the Great Recession.
“You have an economy that, although the stock market and unemployment rate look good, people’s actual lived experience of making ends meet” is less good, said Corrine McConnaughy, a political scientist at George Washington University.
Ms. McConnaughy said the uneven nature of the recovery might affect men’s and women’s views of the economy differently. She said research had found that men, on average, gauged the economy based on their own financial situation. Women tend to weigh more heavily the experiences of the people they see around them.
For Addie Chase, the economy is working fine. The shopping center that she and her husband own in Stratford, Conn., is fully rented, and she has a strong stable of students for her business as a piano teacher.
But Ms. Chase, 67, said Connecticut as a whole was struggling economically. She sees people leaving the state in search of better opportunities, and she worries about the future. And she said her frustrations with the national political environment were hard to separate from her feelings about the economy.
“I just feel like I’m angry all the time, which isn’t my personality,” she said. “Because women are so upset about how things are going, it colors their whole outlook.”