Men who earn less, cheat more

Men who aren’t the primary breadwinners in a relationship are more likely to be unfaithful, according to a new study. But, it’s not about the money, says the lead researcher. It’s about sexual identity.

“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,” says Christin Munsch, a sociology doctoral candidate at Cornell University. She presented the results of her study at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta this month.

Although almost 7 percent of men cheated at least once during the six-year period studied (with African-American and Hispanic men having higher rates of cheating than white men), compared with about 3 percent of women, the study found that men are more likely to cheat when they are unhappy about their financial standing and their failure to assume the role of breadwinner.

These men might seek sexual conquests outside the relationship to shore up their threatened sense of manhood, Munsch says.

“Sexual encounters, particularly with multiple women, are a defining feature of hegemonic masculinity,” Munsch writes in her study. She cites research showing that nothing makes a man feel like “the man” like a sexual conquest.

The odds of straying are reduced by satisfaction with the relationship and religious convictions, the study reports, but are increased with lower levels of education, for men (but not women).

Men and women who earn much larger salaries than their partner are also more likely to cheat, the study finds, although women are half as likely to cheat.

“For women, economic dependency seems to have the opposite effect: The more dependent women are on their male partners, the less likely they are to engage in infidelity,” says Munsch. But “men who make a lot more money than their partners may be in jobs that offer more opportunities for cheating—like long work hours, travel, and higher incomes that make cheating easier to conceal.”

Munsch examined data on 1,024 men and 1,559 women who were married or living with a partner for at least a year from the 2002 to 2007 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

While making less money than a female partner increases the risk of infidelity, Munsch says, “we’re talking about very small numbers.”

If you’re a woman and “you make more money than your partner, your partner isn’t 100 percent likely to cheat,” she adds.

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