Have husbands really stopped cheating? Well…sort of. While an ever-ready supply of misbehaving celebrities and politicians work to keep the media focused on infidelity, recent research actually suggests that monogamy is on the rise in the average American bedroom, especially among husbands.
Just last month, a new study reported that between 1975 and 2000, American couples of all types (heterosexual, gay, and lesbian) became significantly more monogamous.1 Among the study’s many findings, the changing face of marital monogamy was particularly surprising. The researchers compared archival data, collected in 1975 (sample of 4,327 married individuals) and in 2000 (209 married individuals), to see whether two kinds of cheating had occurred at any point in a couple’s relationship: “sex outside the relationship,” and “a meaningful love affair with somebody else.” Sex for fun and sex for love—had either changed in 25 years?
Most notably, among modern husbands, the “meaningful love affair” is a dying breed. In 1975, 27% of husbands reported this kind of affair, compared to a piddling 1.3% in 2000. The not-so-meaningful love affair appears to be losing steam as well. In 1975, 28% of men had extramarital sex compared to 10% in 2000. What about the wives? In 1975, 31% had pursued a meaningful love affair—nearly 1 in 3! Like their husbands, wives are also now much less likely (5.5%, or 1 in 20) in 2000 to have cultivated a special intimacy with any lover. Interestingly, only one type of affair didn’t change in a statistically significant way over the 25 years: wives are still having just as many sex-outside-the-marriage affairs. By 2000, the ladies were actually surpassing their husbands in this particular category, as 14% of wives had strayed with a casual partner.
To be fair, this sample was 92% white and mostly college-educated. Other research on the “cheating rate” can vary dramatically depending on the sample and how cheating is defined. For example, a 2010 study of a random, nationally representative sample, found that infidelity ran as high as 37.5% in some groups.2
All in all, this research highlights an intriguing social shift: monogamy (or perhaps, more fairly, serial monogamy) is on the rise. Today’s couples are less likely to stray. But, if they do, they opt for a casual romp rather than a secret lover. Perhaps the old-fashioned mistress has simply grown too expensive? Or, as Americans delay marriage in favor of education and careers, perhaps we simply find better partners in the first place, and choose divorce over infidelity if we grow apart.
1Gotta, G., Green, R.-J., Rothblum, E., Solomon, S., Balsam, K., Schwartz, P. (2011). Heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male relationships: A comparison of couples in 1975 and 2000. Family Process, 50, 353–376.
2Luo, A., Cartun, M. A., & Snider, A. G. (2010). Assessing extradyadic behavior: A review, a new measure, and two new models. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 155-163.
Melissa Schneider – Science Of Relationships articles | Website
Melissa is a licensed Dating and Relationships Counselor and the Co-Founder of LuvWise.com. Follow her blog or connect on Twitter. Take her free relationship test or work with her to get over that breakup and learn how to build your own great relationship, right from the very first date– find out how.