Breadwinners More Likely to Have Cheating Spouses

Women who earn more than their husbands are especially at risk of seeing their spouse stray. Find out why.

Breadwinning spouses are more likely to be cheated on, and that’s especially true for breadwinning wives, according to new research on younger couples.

There is a 15 percent chance that in an average year men ages 18 to 32 who are completely economically dependent on their wives will have an affair, according to a study by Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.

There is a 5 percent chance of women in that age group cheating in any given year when they are economically dependent on their husbands.

Munsch states in a press release:

“You would think that people would not want to ‘bite the hand that feeds them,’ so to speak. …

Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”

The study report — titled “Her Support, His Support: Money, Masculinity, and Marital Infidelity” — was published in this month’s issue of the American Sociological Review, which is the flagship journal of the nonprofit American Sociological Association.

The report was based on a study of data from 2,750 married people ages 18 to 32. The data came from the 2001-2011 findings of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which is sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both being primary breadwinners and having extramarital sex have been behaviors culturally associated with masculinity, Munsch states. That might help explain why she found that men who are completely economically dependent on their wives are most likely to commit adultery — such men use the affairs to shore up their sense of their own masculinity, she says.

As Munsch explained in 2010, when she was researching the relationship between infidelity and income as a doctoral candidate at Cornell University:

“Any identity that’s important to you, if you feel it’s threatened, you’re going to engage in behavior that will reinstate your place in that group.”

Breadwinning men were less likely to cheat — but only up to a certain point.

Men who out-earn their wives have decreasing odds of cheating only until the man’s earnings constitutes 70 percent of a couple’s total income, Munsch found. Once a man’s contribution to total income exceeds 70 percent, he is more likely to cheat.

This could be because men who earn more than 70 percent of the total income believe their wives would not leave them since the woman is so economically dependent on him, Munsch states. Or, it might be because such men are looking for a partner who will contribute more to the relationship economically.

For women, Munsch found that the more they contribute to combined marital income, the less likely they are to cheat.

Munsch states that she was unsurprised to see that men who significantly out-earn their spouses are more likely to cheat because high-earning male celebrities, athletes and politicians who cheat often make headlines:

“What is surprising, though, is that 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.”

Perhaps couples could avoid such troubles if they discuss money matters before tying the knot. To learn more, check out “10 Money Matters to Discuss Before Marriage.”

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Stacy Johnson

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