Monday, June 1, 2015

Cheating Husbands and Cheating Wives

Thanks to sociologist Christin Munsch we now know, with greater precision, which men and which women are more or less likely to cheat… that is, to commit adultery.

You might suspect that alpha males, commanders of all they survey, masters of the universe are the most likely to cheat on their wives.

You would be wrong. The men who are most likely to cheat are those whose wives are breadwinners.

You might suspect that powerful women, women who are breadwinners are very likely to cheat on their husbands… because after all, with power comes license.

Again you would be wrong. Women breadwinners are the least likely to cheat.

As for male breadwinners, they are less likely to cheat… but only up to the point where they bring home 70% of the family income. Don’t you love sociology?

When such men earn more than 70% of the family income they are more likely to cheat on their wives; though they are still less likely to cheat than are the husbands of female breadwinners.

The data is the data. Interpretation of the data is something else.

Munsch has some ideas, and they are worth examining.

Men whose wives are breadwinners have been dispossessed of their normal masculine role. Naturally, Munsch and those who have reported on this question believe that the role of provider is arbitrarily imposed on a recalcitrant human nature.

In a culture that sees men as breadwinners, men who cannot or do not fulfill this role cheat of their breadwinner wives in order to affirm their masculinity.

Surely, the interpretation is cogent. But why do women breadwinners so rarely cheat? 

One might suggest that women who become titans of industry or who hold powerful jobs in the business world are less interested in adultery or are less attractive to men.

Compare the relative attractiveness of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Throughout his career Bill Clinton has been magnetically attractive to women. Hillary Clinton has never been very attractive to men.

When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, his wife was the family breadwinner. Her income as a corporate lawyer far outdistanced his $35,000 governor’s salary.

But, Bill Clinton was notoriously indiscreet about his philandering. If he did not care about getting caught, he might have felt contempt for his wife and wanted to humiliate her.

In other cases, men believe that their wives’ success has come about at their expense and they cheat in order to diminish or humiliate their spouses.

According to Munsch female breadwinners are so sensitive about their role reversals that they avoid adultery because they do not want to risk their marriages. A woman might believe that  adding cheating to breadwinning would be too much of an assault on her husband’s male pride.

We may also ask whether a breadwinning wife has the same opportunities to cheat? And we may ask what would happen to her reputation as an executive if she had been caught cheating? If she is also a wife and mother, where would she find the time to do so?

Her husband, however, would have plenty of free time to develop relationships with the lonely housewives he meets at the playground or at school functions. If he lives in a suburb, for example, where he is one of the very few men around during the day, opportunities will abound.

News stories about Munsch’s studies emphasize the fact that men who cheat, especially men whose wives are breadwinners, have failed to adapt to the new normal.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, offers this tidbit of feminist ideology:

Despite strides toward sexual equality, American men still can’t handle not being a breadwinner—even though this has become economic reality for many. Instead, their failure to bring home the bacon often triggers a masculinity crisis that, perversely, undermines the very marriage a man needs for support.

But, is this really as new as it seems? There have, throughout history, been cultures where men have failed at being breadwinners. It would appear that in those cultures men are far more likely to be adulterous. See Michael Carroll’s The Cult of the Virgin Mary.

Those cultures tend to be matriarchal but women are not the breadwinners. In fact, there are no breadwinners.

Surely, it is true that no man is obliged to cheat on his wife. Thus, he ought to be held accountable for his behavior. And yet, the feminist view point suggests that men should accept being relegated to a subordinate role. It does not consider that these roles correspond to a reality and that those who mess with nature are more likely to pay a price.

But, how does this all look through the lens of evolutionary psychology?

Not as clear as one would expect.

Evolutionary psychology seems to suggest that alpha males are both irresistibly attractive to women and more likely to cheat on their wives… even to the point of collecting mistresses in a harem.

But, how well can it account for the fact that the husbands of female breadwinners are the most likely to cheat? What explains their appeal to other women?

Could it be that who who are being supported by their wives seem to have more time and energy to devote to pleasing women. Perhaps their lovers are more interested in the attention and the affection than they are in making these men their husbands.

It is well known that men distinguish between the women they would marry and the women they would #$%&. Perhaps women make similar distinctions. 

Admittedly, the market for boytoys and gigolos is nothing like the market for women of ill-repute, but surely the market exists.

One accepts theories about alpha males, but apparently there's more to women's choices of sexual partners than power and status.


Ares Olympus said...

This looks like one of those "heads I win, tails you lose" logical distractions.

1. The men who are most likely to cheat are those whose wives are breadwinners.
2. Women breadwinners are the least likely to cheat.

My vast pattern matching skills read this as "Breadwinners, male or female, are least likely to cheat." while "The partner of Breadwinners, male or female are most likely to cheat."

So if you're a man you maybe you feel your masculinity diminished being a "homemaker" or "community organizer" as the case may be, but apparently women also feel their femininity diminished as well.

So maybe the moral of the story is to become a "power couple" where both husband and wife work in high careers and earn close to 50%, and hire out a maid and cook and nanny and all those demeaning tasks that encourage people's sense of excitement to cause them to be bored and stray. And then everyone will be too tired to stray, and they'll live happily ever after.

The End.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's an article with the same initial conclusion as me: "Both men and women are more likely to cheat on their spouses the more economically dependent they are on them."

But it gives ratios:
"According to Munsch, in an average year, there is about a 5 percent chance that women who are completely economically dependent on their husbands will cheat, whereas there is about a 15 percent chance that men who are entirely economically dependent on their wives will have an affair."

"Men are least likely to cheat when they bring home 70 percent of a couple’s total income. After 70 percent, however, men become increasingly more likely to stray."

So at least that puts some context on the claim. Maybe the answer is the wife can make as much as she likes, but she should keep extra income, in excess of 30% of her husband's, in a secret bank account? Of course that's tricky at tax-time unless they file separately, but there must be a way to maintain the golden ratio of fidelity.

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