Absence may make the heart grow fonder. But it’s money that may make the heart (and body) wander, according to new research published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review.
In an analysis of more than 2,750 married people, ages 18 to 32, both men and women are more likely to cheat on their spouses the more they depend on their partners for money. Men who are economically dependent on their wives are the most likely to cheat.
This connection between infidelity and “economic dependence,” is, in one sense, biting the “hand that feeds you,” said study author Christin Munsch, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.
The data show that married couples “. . . like feeling relatively equal in their relationships,” said Munsch. “People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”
The study relies on data collected from 2001 through 2011 among participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
It shows that in an average year, there is about a 5 percent chance that women who are completely economically dependent on their husbands will cheat. The rate jumps to 15 percent for men who are completely monetarily dependent on their wives.
The higher infidelity rate among economically dependent men may be a way for men to compensate for a perceived loss of machismo, or as a way for men to “punish or distance themselves” from their primary breadwinning partner, Munsch said.
While economically dependent men and women both exhibit some similar behaviors, men and women do behave differently when they are primary breadwinners.
When a woman contributes a large percentage of earnings to combined family income, these women are less likely to cheat. And they are “least likely” to cheat when they make 100 percent of a couples’ total income, according to the study.
“Women who earn more than their husbands do everything from increasing their housework to minimizing their own achievements to try to make their husbands feel less emasculated,” Munsch said.
Among men, those who are completely economically dependent on their spouses are the most likely to cheat. But as the money men make relative to their spouses increases, their odds of committing adultery decreases.
“The sweet spot for men who are least likely to cheat is when they bring home 70 percent of a total income,” Munsch said.
But oddly after 70 percent, men are more likely to stray.
These men may think their wives won’t leave them because they are so economically dependent on them, or they may be searching for a partner who could contribute more to pooled marital funds, Munsch said.
One important thing to keep in mind, however, regarding this study “is that all of these people are under the age of 32,” said Jay Lebow, Ph.D. Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ilinois.
“It may be different in older men and women,” he said.
According to the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, infidelity increased from 3.5 percentage points over the course of two decades — from 10.0% in 1991 to 13.5 percent in 2010.
That means the majority of couples don’t cheat.
“Even in our study, it’s clear the majority of people do not cheat on their spouses, despite what they contribute in terms of income to a marriage,” Munsch said.
“I don’t want the punchline to be don’t let a man be economically dependent on you,” she adds.
“Instead, why don’t you marry a person who is secure in his masculinity and isn’t threatened by what you earn.”