We all hear the varying stats on infidelity: in one recent study of 4,884 married women, some 6 percent said in computer questionnaires that they had been unfaithful in the last year. But finally someone has addressed a more intriguing question in the scientific study of marriage: are women remaining true to their husbands in their hearts?
“It’s certainly plausible that women might have increased their relative rate of infidelity over time,” Edward O. Laumann, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago told The New York Times.
“But it isn’t going to be a huge number. The real thing to talk about is where are they in terms of their relationship and the marital bond.”
Meaning in layman’s — or rather laywoman’s — terms: did someone stray at a troubled time in the marriage or at the end of a failing relationship?
Was the infidelity a momentary fling and the marriage can be repaired? Or did it torpedo a relationship and lead to divorce?
In The New York Times article, sociologists pointed out that women are cheating more because they have more options than in the past when they were sequestered in their homes with a brood of children. Now many are working women interacting with a larger pool of people and — surprise, surprise — not that much different than men.
And even for women who stay home, cell phones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships outside their marriages, therapists say.
The article also examined why there might be conflicting data on infidelity. In that study referenced up top, a joint project of the University of Colorado and Texas A&M University, only 1 percent of those same women admitted to adultery in the last year when asked about it in person.
And other polls, in women’s magazines, may suffer from what pollsters call “selection bias”: readers who have committed adultery are more likely to select themselves to respond to the poll.
However, when examining the standardized data from the University of Chicago General Social Survey, one trend is clear. Older men — thanks to being drunk with self-importance and virile thanks to Viagra — and younger women are swelling the ranks of the unfaithful.
However, in the age of cougars and fabulous looking babes at any age, married women over 60 have also been more frisky, with an increase in lifetime affairs to 15 percent in 2006, compared to 5 percent in 1991.
In younger couples, the article suggested that the rising rate of infidelity may be due to the increased availability of pornography on the Internet, which has been shown to affect sexual attitudes and perceptions of “normal” behavior.
Helen E. Fisher, research professor of anthropology at Rutgers and the author of several books on the biological and evolutionary basis of love and sex, noted that infidelity is common across cultures, and that in hunting and gathering societies, there is no evidence that women are any less adulterous than men. The fidelity gap may be explained more by cultural pressures than any real difference in sex drives between men and women.
Overall, according to the General Social Survey, about 10 percent of married people have been unfaithful during a marriage.
But here’s the most important revelation. Most Americans still think infidelity is a no-no and that it frays trust and marital bonds. The best thing for marriage is honesty and loyalty. But we knew that.