It might sound counterintuitive, but a new study suggests that spouses are more likely to cheat if they are economically dependent on the other.
"You would think that people would not want to 'bite the hand that feeds them' so to speak, but that is not what my research shows," Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, said in a statement. "Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don't like to feel dependent on another person."
Both men and women who were the financial dependents were more likely to cheat than spouses who were economically equal, but Munsch found that men in a dependent situation were even more prone to infidelity. Men were least likely to cheat if they brought in 70 percent of the couple's total income, but before and after that percentage, infidelity became more likely.
Women who earned 100 percent of the family's income were the least likely to cheat.
"Extramarital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat — that is not being primary breadwinners, as is culturally expected — to engage in behavior culturally associated with masculinity," Munsch said. "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."
Munsch drew these conclusions from 10 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which had more than 2,750 married people age 18 to 32 years old.
While Munsch said it wasn't surprising that men who earned significantly more than their wives were more likely to cheat because they might think of them as truly dependent and thus less likely to leave them as a result.
Munsch was, however, surprised to see the "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."
This research was published in the journal American Sociological Review.
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