Storrs, Conn. (CBS CONNECTICUT) — Men and women who are too economically dependent on their spouses are more likely to cheat, with both sides becoming more likely to cheat on a distant breadwinner.

Men who earn significantly less than their wives are most likely to cheat.

A University of Connecticut study of 2,757 married Americans between the ages of 18 and 32 finds that many couples attempt to restore relationship equality through infidelity – with the compensatory cheating behavior balancing out the spousal income separation and feelings of inadequacy.

University of Connecticut sociologist Christin Munsch concludes from her research that “infidelity may allow economically dependent men to engage in compensatory behavior while simultaneously distancing themselves from breadwinning spouses.”

On the other hand, she finds that women who make more than their husbands would often remain faithful to keep a potentially strained relationship intact and neutralize “gender deviance.” Five percent of women who are economically dependent and 15 percent of men who make less than their wives were found to have affairs each year.

Men who are completely financially dependent on their spouse are the most likely to cheat, with their likeliness of cheating decreasing until they bring home 70 percent of the couple’s income. Above 70 percent, and men become increasingly less likely to cheat.

“Women who out-earn their husbands challenge the status quo,” says Munsch, noting that women are least likely to engage in infidelity when they earn 100 percent of the couple’s total income. “Previous research finds that women who are primary breadwinners are acutely aware of the ways in which they deviate from the cultural expectation that equates men with breadwinning. Consequently, previous research finds these women suffer from increased anxiety and insomnia and engage in what sociologists call ‘deviance neutralization behaviors.’”

“These men are aware that their wives are truly dependent and may think that, as a result, their wives will not leave them even if they cheat,” Munsch explains.

“They also might be cheating in search of a partner who will contribute more economically to the relationship. A husband who earns significantly more than his wife and has an affair – think celebrities, athletes, and politicians – is the type of infidelity that regularly makes front-page news, so I wasn’t surprised to find that men who make a lot more than their wives are more likely to cheat than men in equal-earning relationships or relationships where they make a little bit more than their wives.

But Munsch said it was more surprising that men who earn a significantly larger share of the couple’s income were less likely to cheat than men who earn the least amount in the relationship.

“What is surprising, though, is that the 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. But the affairs of economically dependent men simply don’t garner media attention, so we hear about this kind of infidelity far less often.”


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