This past year, in the midst of the #metoo campaign, a number of married men were among those accused of sexual misconduct. News of the inappropriate behavior probably created some extremely awkward moments within these marriages and perhaps made others wonder if their spouse is likely to cheat.
Dr. Wendy Wang, research director at the Institute for Family Studies, recently released a brief on the subject called Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Cheating in America. Wang found that men, adults who did not grow up in intact families, and those who rarely or never attend religious services, are more likely than others to have cheated on their spouse.
Based on Wang’s analysis of General Social Survey data from 2010-2016:
- Men are more likely than women to cheat. Twenty percent of men and 13 percent of women reported they've had sex with someone other than their spouse, but the gap varies by age.
- The infidelity rate also differs among a number of other social and demographic factors, such as race, family of origin and religious service attendance.
Wang also found that cheating is somewhat more common among black adults. Some 22% of ever-married blacks said that they cheated on their spouse, compared with 16% of whites and 13% of Hispanics. And among black men, the rate is highest. In fact, 28% reported that they had sex with someone other than their spouse, compared with 20% of white men and 16% of Hispanic men.
The data also revealed that a person’s political identity, family background and religious activity are related to whether or not they cheat. Interestingly, having a college degree is not linked to a higher probability of cheating. Almost equal shares of college-educated and less-educated adults have been unfaithful to their spouse (16% vs. 15%). The share among those with some college education is slightly higher (18%).
So who is more likely to cheat - men or women? The data indicates men and women share very few traits in that area. For men, race, age, education level and religious service attendance are still significant factors. For women, family background and religious service attendance are significant factors for unfaithfulness, while race, age and educational attainment are not relevant factors. The only factor that shows significant consistency in predicting both men and women’s odds of infidelity is religious service attendance.
The bottom line is that a lot of people are at risk and may not even know it. When it comes to cheating in marriage, the single most important protective factor is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk to cheat.
Many relationship experts agree that one of the most common pathways to infidelity is when a man and woman who are “just friends” begin to discuss their marital problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.
If you haven't talked about guarding your marriage as a couple, you might want to talk about these things:
- Establish clear boundaries. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your relationship. You probably believe you would never fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. Unfortunately, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk about how you will intentionally do your marriage work with your spouse and avoid keeping secrets from each other.
- Be aware, and value your mate's opinion. Sometimes other see things you don’t recognize.
- The danger zones are for real. Being oblivious to tempting situations is risky.
Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Check in with each other frequently and discuss how your choices impact your marital health. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage. On the other hand, it could be a tremendous help.