This morning’s *New York Times* includes an article: “Love, Sex and the
Changing Landscape of Infidelity” by Tara Parker-Pope.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

If you cheated on your spouse, would you admit it to a researcher?

That question is one of the biggest challenges in the scientific study
of marriage, and it helps explain why different studies produce
different estimates of infidelity rates in the United States.

Surveys conducted in person are likely to underestimate the real rate of
adultery, because people are reluctant to admit such behavior not just
to their spouses but to anyone.

In a study published last summer in The Journal of Family Psychology,
for example, researchers from the University of Colorado and Texas A&M
surveyed 4,884 married women, using face-to-face interviews and
anonymous computer questionnaires. In the interviews, only 1 percent of
women said they had been unfaithful to their husbands in the past year;
on the computer questionnaire, more than 6 percent did.

At the same time, experts say that surveys appearing in sources like
women’s magazines may overstate the adultery rate, because they suffer
from what pollsters call selection bias: the respondents select
themselves and may be more likely to report infidelity.

But a handful of new studies suggest surprising changes in the marital

Infidelity appears to be on the rise, particularly among older men and
young couples. Notably, women appear to be closing the adultery gap:
younger women appear to be cheating on their spouses nearly as often as men.

“If you just ask whether infidelity is going up, you don’t see really
impressive changes,” said David C. Atkins, research associate professor
at the University of Washington Center for the Study of Health and Risk
Behaviors. “But if you magnify the picture and you start looking at
specific gender and age cohorts, we do start to see some pretty
significant changes.”

The most consistent data on infidelity come from the General Social
Survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and based at the
University of Chicago, which has used a national representative sample
to track the opinions and social behaviors of Americans since 1972. The
survey data show that in any given year, about 10 percent of married
people — 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women — say they have had
sex outside their marriage.

But detailed analysis of the data from 1991 to 2006, to be presented
next month by Dr. Atkins at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive
Therapies conference in Orlando, show some surprising shifts.

University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate
of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from
20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to
15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991.

The researchers also see big changes in relatively new marriages. About
20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under 35 say they have ever
been unfaithful, up from about 15 and 12 percent respectively.

Theories vary about why more people appear to be cheating.


In younger couples, the increasing availability of pornography on the
Internet, which has been shown to affect sexual attitudes and
perceptions of “normal” behavior, may be playing a role in rising infidelity.

But it is the apparent change in women’s fidelity that has sparked the
most interest among relationship researchers. It is not entirely clear
if the historical gap between men and women is real or if women have
just been more likely to lie about it.

“Is it that men are bragging about it and women are lying to everybody
including themselves?” Dr. Fisher asked. “Men want to think women don’t
cheat, and women want men to think they don’t cheat, and therefore the
sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other.”

Dr. Fisher notes 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 . Men with multiple partners typically are viewed as virile,
while women are considered promiscuous. And historically, women have
been isolated on farms or at home with children, giving them fewer
opportunities to be unfaithful.


While infidelity rates do appear to be rising, a vast majority of people
still say adultery is wrong, and most men and women do not appear to be
unfaithful. Another problem with the data is that it fails to discern
when respondents cheat: in a troubled time in the marriage, or at the
end of a failing relationship.

“It’s certainly plausible that women might have increased their relative
rate of infidelity over time,” said Edward O. Laumann, professor of
sociology at the University of Chicago. “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.”

The General Social Survey data also show some encouraging trends, said
John P. Robinson, professor of sociology and director of the Americans’
Use of Time project at the University of Maryland. One notable shift is
that couples appear to be spending slightly more time together. And
married men and women also appear to have the most active sex lives,
reporting sex with their spouse 58 times a year, a little more than once
a week.

“We’ve looked at that as good news,” Dr. Robinson said.

[end excerpts]

The article is online at: