Skip to content
Surprising Science

Economic Dependence Causes Some Spouses to Cheat

Researcher Christin L. Munsch breaks down how being economically dependent on a spouse may cause some men and women to stray.

Economic dependence may lead a small percentage of men and women to cheat on their spouses, according to a new study by Christin L. Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. She explained in a press release that “people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”

Her data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which consisted of 2,750 married people between the ages of 18 and 32.

She said that in a year, women who were economically dependent on their husbands have a 5 percent chance that they’ll cheat. In the reverse situation, the chance a man will have an affair on his wife is around 15 percent.

Munsch explained the disparity in infidelity in a press release:

“For men, especially young men, the dominant definition of masculinity is scripted in terms of sexual virility and conquest, particularly with respect to multiple sex partners. Thus, engaging in infidelity may be a way of reestablishing threatened masculinity. Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their higher-earning spouses.”

These sentiments have been echoed before, from a male perspective, by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a TV and radio host, in his Big Think interview. Where Munsch argues that economic dependence causes imbalance in the relationship, leading to infidelity, Boteach focuses on the bigger topic of self-esteem that causes some men to stray:

Continuing her research, Munsch found an interesting difference that emerged between men and women who were responsible for bringing in a majority or as much as 100 percent of the combined household income.

She said the more women “breadwin” for the household, the less likely they are to cheat. But when male breadwinners begin to bring in over 70 percent of the combined household income, they were more likely to stray. Munsch suggested that this awareness among some men leads them to believe that “their wives are truly dependent and may think that, as a result, their wives will not leave them even if they cheat. They also might be cheating in search of a partner who will contribute more economically to the relationship.”

However, Munsch says that despite what celebrity magazines may say about cheating politicians, actors, and athletes you often hear about, “this increase in the likelihood of men engaging in infidelity that occurs as they make significantly more than their wives is relatively small compared to the increase in the likelihood of cheating that takes place among men as they become more economically dependent.”

It would be interesting to see how these economic disparities appeared in other cultures and countries — if these actions are a result of social pressure or something else.

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Up Next