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Racial and Gender Differences in Extramarital Sex in the United States in the Last Three Decades



Marital infidelity is a serious problem because it can lead to separation and even divorce. Yet, little is known about racial and gender differences in levels of extramarital sex in the United States in the last three decades (1991 to 2018). This study represents the first analysis of the racial and gender differences in levels and determinants of extramarital sex in the United States. We use data from all the 15 waves of the General Social Survey in which respondents were asked if they have ever had sex with someone other than their husband or wife when they were married. Descriptive and multivariate (logistic regression) analyses were conducted to determine the levels and determinants of racial and gender differences in extramarital sex in the last three decades. There are small changes in percent of extramarital sex between 1991 (14.63 percent) and 2018 (16.48 percent). However, despite some fluctuations observed across the 15 General Social Survey waves, the prevalence of extramarital sex has remained significantly higher for blacks compared to whites, and higher also for men than women. The results show the importance of race and gender in explaining extramarital sexual behavior in the United States. We discuss these findings in relation to previous studies and suggest directions for future research.
Racial and Gender Differences in Extramarital Sex in
the United States in the Last Three Decades
1Infectious Diseases Branch, California Department of Public Health, Sacramento, California, USA.
2Department of Sociology, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
Background: Marital infidelity is a serious problem because it can lead to
separation and even divorce. Yet, little is known about racial and gender
differences in levels of extramarital sex in the United States in the last three
decades (1991 to 2018).
Aim: This study represents the first analysis of the racial and gender
differences in levels and determinants of extramarital sex in the United States.
Methodology: We use data from all the 15 waves of the General Social
Survey in which respondents were asked if they have ever had sex with
someone other than their husband or wife when they were married.
Descriptive and multivariate (logistic regression) analyses were conducted
to determine the levels and determinants of racial and gender differences
in extramarital sex in the last three decades.
Results: There are small changes in percent of extramarital sex between
1991 (14.63 percent) and 2018 (16.48 percent). However, despite some
fluctuations observed across the 15 General Social Survey waves, the
prevalence of extramarital sex has remained significantly higher for blacks
compared to whites, and higher also for men than women.
Conclusion: The results show the importance of race and gender in
explaining extramarital sexual behavior in the United States. We discuss
these findings in relation to previous studies and suggest directions for
future research.
Article History
Received: 13 March 2020
Accepted: 23 April 2020
Extramarital Sex;
Sexual Behavior;
United States.
CONTACT Yanyi K. Djamba Infectious Diseases Branch, California Department of Public Health,
Sacramento, California, USA.
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Enviro Research Publishers.
This is an Open Access article licensed under a Creative Commons license: Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY).
Current Research Journal of Social Sciences
Vol. 03, No. (1) 2020, Pg. 06-18
Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of extramarital
relations (Campbell & Wright, 2010); yet, empirical
studies and media reports indicate that extramarital
sexual (EMS) relations are more common these
days. Conservatively, studies report that each
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
year, approximately 4% of men and 2% of women
engage in extramarital relations (Treas & Giesen,
2000; Wiederman, 1997). For instance, Michael W.
Wiederman (1997) used data from the 1994 wave
of the General Social Survey (GSS) to examine the
lifetime prevalence of EMS, as well as the incidence
of EMS during the past year. The study found that
12% of women and 23% of men reported having
committed infidelity at some point in their marriage;
and the incidence of EMS in the past year was
1.7% for women and 4.1% for men. Similar to
Wiederman’s (1997) study findings, Judith Treas
and Deirdre Giesen (2000) found that men were less
likely to be sexually exclusive than women; that is,
“being male increased the odds of having engaged
in EMS by 79%” (pp. 54).
Further, there have been numerous reports in
media outlets about cases of infidelities committed
by celebrities, politicians, and religious authorities.
While most of the allegations of extramarital affairs
have been of men, there have been cases of
married women having EMS relations. Given its
private nature and the social and often political,
ethical, and professional consequences, most
EMS relations are hidden or at least unknown to
the public. Sometimes, the alleged cheater ends
the affair without the knowledge of their spouse.
Although, if found out or confronted, they may
confess to their spouse or continue to deny the affair.
However, some studies argue that disclosing sexual
affairs is likely to produce panic and pain rather than
permanent peace (Block, 2000: 74-75). As such,
there are limited data on the level of extramarital
sex in the United States (US).
One of the earliest information on national estimates
of EMS in the US released 70 years ago suggested
that by age 40, about half of all married men (Kinsey,
Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948: 585, 587) and one-fourth
of married women (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, &
Gebhard, 1953: 416) will have had sexual intercourse
with someone else than their spouse. However, such
estimates have not yet been corroborated in most
Studies that have examined EMS behavior in
the US show varied results. In the 1990s, the
AIDS pandemic pushed scholars to revisit the
field of sexuality research to design appropriate
prevention programs. Because EMS was identified
as one of the key vectors of HIV infection (Reinisch,
Sanders, & Ziemba-Davis, 1988), questions on
extramarital relations were incorporated into national
representative surveys in the 1990s. For example,
the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS)
(Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994) and
the GSS added questions on extramarital relations
in early 1990s. Estimates from the first waves of
these surveys showed women trailing men in the
prevalence of extramarital affairs (Wiederman,
1997). Further, Edward O. Laumann et al., (1994)
findings from NHSLS data showed the prevalence of
EMS to be 15% for women and 24% for men. We can
conclude that there were large gender differences
in EMS behavior in the US in early 1990s. However,
several questions remain unanswered. For example,
what are the levels and trends of extramarital
relations across demographic groups in the last three
decades? Do rates differ for whites and blacks and
for men and women?
This study represents the first research that examines
changes in the prevalence and determinants of
EMS by race and gender in the US in the last three
decades. The analysis is based on the 15 waves
of national representative samples of ever married
individuals aged 18+ years interviewed in the GSS
from 1991 to 2018.
Theoretical Perspectives
When it comes to extramarital affairs, the main
question is why do people cheat on their spouses?
Apart from a few cases, where spouses agree
not to be sexually exclusive such as consensual
non-monogamy (CNM) relationships (Edgar,
2017; Rubel & Bogaert, 2015), and relationships
that include those couples with memberships in
swing clubs where couples accept to exchange
spouses for sex (Bartel, 1971), most married
people in the US expect their spouses to be faithful
(DeMaris, 2013). For example, in their analysis of the
1992 NHSLS data, Treas and Giesen (2000) found
that 99% of respondents expected their spouses
to have exclusive sexual relationships. The norm
of sexual exclusivity implies that couples remain
committed to each other. Thus, EMS is generally
considered undesirable by the person betrayed
and the cheater seeks to conceal the “undesirable”
behavior. This is, perhaps, due to the Judeo-Christian
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
tradition that considers sex outside of marriage a
sin for both men and women (Kyle, 2012). Based
on this tradition, in the US, social construction of
marriage is an expectation of sexual exclusiveness;
and the assumption around most relationships is
that of strict monogamy. Contrary to this, EMS is
considered a threat to the stability of a couple’s
marriage and counteracts prevailing monogamous
societies’ norms.
Why then do some people cheat? We explore the
question along the evolutionary theories of sexual
and reproductive behavior initially developed
primarily in the studies of non-human species. After
reviewing Charles Darwin’s theory of biological
evolution thesis which defines sexual selection
as competition within one sex for members of
the opposite sex (Darwin, 1871), and subsequent
research on sexual strategies of different species
such as some flies like Drosophila (Bateman,
1948) and many birds (Verner & Willson, 1969),
Robert L. Trivers (1972) constructed the parental
investment theory. According to that theory, males
and females’ sexual selection and mating strategies
are strongly linked to their relative contributions
to their offspring’s survival. Empirical research
has explained this theory in great details. For
example, in most mammals where females bear
most of the parental investment burdens, males
tend to be more sexually permissive than females
(Clutton-Brock, 1991).
Applied to humans, we argue that in most societies,
women’s parental investment in their offspring’s
survival is higher than men’s. This is because
women’s parental investment begins with 9 months
of gestation on average, followed by months and
sometimes years of breastfeeding and other infant
care. Since in most species, women bear most
of the parental investment burdens in terms of
gestation and child-rearing, they are expected to
be more sexually restrained than men. As such,
we expect men to have higher rates of EMS than
women, net of the effects of their socio-demographic
characteristics. Other theories of social exchange
can be used to explain the importance of habituation
in sexual relations. According to George Homans,
"The more often […] a person has received a
particular reward, the less valuable any further unit
of that reward becomes for him" (Homans, 1974:29).
In terms of sexual relations, previous research has
shown that sexual desire and arousal do decline in
response to partner familiarity (Morton & Gorzalka,
2015; O’Donohue & Geer, 1985). Familiarity with
the spouse can be indirectly measured through the
duration of marriage. However, the GSS does not
include information on duration of current marriage
to test that hypothesis.
Further, numerous studies have compared white and
black people’s sexual behavior. The most consistent
findings have been that blacks report higher rates
of intercourse (Zelnik & Kantner, 1977), have higher
lifetime coitus rates (Christensen & Johnson, 1978),
and have more sexually permissiveness attitude
than whites (Staples, 1978). Of the few studies
that focused on racial differences in extramarital
relations, race has been used primarily as a control
variable. For example, Paul R. Amato and Stacy J.
Rogers (1997) found that blacks were more likely
to engage in marital infidelity than whites. Further,
in their 2000 study on “Sexual Infidelity Among
Married and Cohabiting Americans”, Treas and
Giesen (2000) found that African Americans were
106% more likely to report EMS than whites. Some
have explained this racial difference in EMS as the
result of the so-called “shortage of black men”. It has
been argued that the higher rates of EMS among
blacks is due to the shortage of single black men,
which ultimately creates greater opportunities for
married black men to have sex with single black
women (Wiederman, 1997; Choi, Catania, & Dolcini,
1994). However, the shortage of black men thesis
has not yet emerged as a conclusive explanation
of EMS.
Other researchers have found an association
between the availability of potential sexual partners
and EMS (South & Lloyd, 1992). The general
explanation is that people who live or work in areas
with high number of potential sexual partners are
more likely to engage in EMS because they have
more opportunities to form sexual relationships with
other sexual partners. In this study, we revisit that
hypothesis by analyzing the association between the
size of place of residence (in terms of population)
and EMS, as well as work status and EMS.
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
Research Hypotheses
Based on the theoretical perspectives discussed
above, we developed the hypotheses below.
First, consistent with the parental investment
framework, we hypothesize that men will be more
likely to engage in EMS than women. We test that
assumption on data from all the 15 waves of the
GSS covering the period of 1991-2018. Second,
given recent changes in racial relations in the US,
which suggest that black people’s social statuses are
highly linked to their economic conditions (Hunt &
Ray, 2012), we expect a convergence in rates of EMS
between whites and blacks, at least in recent years.
In addition to these two main hypotheses, we explore
the influences of our independent variables on EMS.
In line with the opportunity theory, which assumes
that the availability of different types of goods will
augment the opportunity to use more than one type
of commodity (Fair, 1978: 47), we argue that the place
of residence is associated with the likelihood of EMS
because it affects the opportunities to form sexual
relationships with other sexual partners where one
lives. Scott J. South and Kim M. Lloyd (1992) found
that residing in a community with a high proportion
of potential sexual or marital partners increased the
chances of finding an attractive partner for sex, which
also increased the likelihood of EMS encounters.
Further, Scott J. South, Katherine Trent, and Yang
Shen (2001) point out that the risk of divorce is
highest in areas where either husbands or wives
encounter numerous alternatives to their current
partner. Thus, we hypothesize that people who have
opportunity to meet potential alternative mates will
be more likely to engage in EMS than those who
have limited access to alternative partners.
In this study, we consider the work status and
size of place of residence as factors that increase
an individual’s exposure to alternative mates. An
increase in one’s status (work/career) increases
the likelihood of engaging in EMS. Elizabeth S.
Allen, David C. Atkins, Donald H. Baucom, Douglas
K. Snyder, Kristina Coop Gordon, and Shirley P.
Glass (2005) note that increased career/work status
is associated with higher income and increased
opportunities for travel, which takes one away from a
spouse and increases access to potential alternative
sex partners. We expect individuals working full time
to be more exposed to alternative mates, therefore
more likely to have EMS than those who are not
full-time workers. In the same way, we expect
persons living in largely populated areas to be
exposed to more alternative partners and thus, to
have EMS more than those residing in less populated
Other studies have also examined a variety of other
correlates of EMS that we include in our analysis.
These are age, education, religion, and political
affiliation. Some studies have shown higher levels
of EMS in older age groups (Atkins, Baucom, &
Jacobson, 2001) and others have not (Lawson &
Samson, 1988). For example, Wiederman (1997)
found that married men and women aged 40 – 69
and 40 – 49 respectively reported higher prevalence
of EMS. In this study, we posit that older participants
will have a higher probability of engaging in EMS
than younger people.
Although individuals with higher education have
accepting attitudes about EMS, research has shown
that they are least likely to engage in extramarital
relations (Fair 1978). But, these individuals with
higher education have also reported higher lifetime
levels of EMS (Atkins et al., 2001). Previous studies
have also shown that religious attendance is
inversely related to the likelihood of EMS (e.g. Amato
& Rogers, 1997; Atkins & Kessel, 2008; Atkins et al.,
2001; Burdette, Ellison, Sherkat, & Gore, 2007; Treas
& Giesen, 2000). Therefore, we expect a negative
association between frequency of attendance of
religious services and marital infidelity. In addition,
previous research has shown a higher level of EMS
among Americans who hold liberal political views
as compared to their conservative counterparts
(Wright, 2016). We examine that relationship in
this study by comparing moderates and liberals to
Data and Methods
We use GSS data, a nationally representative
survey of adults 18+ years to examine the levels
and determinants of EMS in the US, with a focus
on racial and gender differences. The National
Opinion Research Center at the University of
Chicago has conducted the GSS since 1972. The
GSS is a comprehensive survey that collects data on
contemporary American society in order to monitor
and explain trends and constants in attitudes,
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
behaviors, and attributes. In addition to demographic,
behavioral, and attitudinal questions, the GSS
also asks respondents questions on a variety of
topics including civil liberties, crime and violence,
intergroup tolerance, morality, national spending
priorities, psychological well-being, social mobility,
and stress and traumatic events (GSS, 2020).
The GSS question on EMS was introduced in 1991.
Therefore, our analysis covers the entire period
for which EMS data are available: 1991-2018. The
EMS module was applied to only ever married
participants, who were asked the following question:
“Have you ever had sex with someone other than
your husband or wife while you were married?”
Thus, in our analysis of the trends in levels of EMS
from 1991 to 2018 by gender (Figure 1) and by race
(Figure 2), we excluded never married participants.
Fig. 1: Percent of Ever-Married Men and Women who Reported Extramarital Sex, GSS 1991-2018
Fig. 2: Percent of Respondents who Reported Extramarital Sex by Race, GSS 1991-2018
We then examined the correlates of EMS in three
models (Tables 1 and 2). The first model uses
data from 1991, the year the GSS first introduced
a question on EMS. The second model uses the
most recent data collected in 2018. The third model
includes data from all the 15 waves of the GSS,
from 1991 to 2018. While the comparison of 1991
and 2018 year-models allows us to discuss eventual
changes in the last three decades, the information
in the combined dataset (1991-2028) is useful
to assess the overall impact of our independent
variables on the likelihood of EMS during the entire
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
Table: 1 Percentage distribution of ever married respondents who had extramarital
sex by background characteristics, GSS 1991-2018
1991 2018 1991-2018
Background N % Extra- N % Extra- N % Extra-
characteristics marital sex marital sex marital sex
All 998 14.63 965 16.48 22,467 17.64
Marital status
Married 683 12.88 954 12.29 14,324 13.12
Widowed 131 6.11 100 17.00 2,460 12.40
Divorced 144 23.61 226 25.66 4,673 30.28
Separated 40 40.00 45 24.44 1,004 36.16
Male 382 21.20 421 22.57 9,449 22.90
Female 616 10.55 544 11.76 13,018 13.82
White 869 13.46 765 15.95 18,697 17.00
Black 102 25.49 99 24.24 2,371 24.34
Other 27 11.11 101 12.87 1,399 14.80
Age group
18-40 403 14.89 246 10.98 7,183 14.70
41-54 242 20.66 241 15.77 6,775 20.68
55-64 132 14.39 218 17.89 3,746 21.46
65+ 220 7.73 258 21.32 4,719 14.79
Attend religious services
Never 119 22.69 273 17.95 4,188 22.92
1-2 times/year 224 20.09 172 16.28 4,419 21.70
3+ times/year 106 16.04 106 18.87 2,598 17.28
1-3 times/week 116 13.86 135 12.59 3,467 16.35
Weekly or more 368 8.70 271 16.61 7,557 13.02
Educational attainment
Less than HS 202 11.88 88 11.36 2,921 15.95
High school 544 17.28 455 18.46 11,637 18.75
Junior college 55 12.73 101 17.82 1,738 17.09
Bachelor 134 8.21 202 16.83 3,936 15.52
Graduate 59 15.25 119 10.92 2,209 18.29
Work status
Full time 463 18.36 467 15.85 11,454 19.28
Part time 107 11.21 103 12.62 2,280 16.80
Other 428 11.45 394 18.27 8,727 15.70
Region of residence
Northeast 217 14.75 152 13.16 3,852 15.60
Midwest 253 12.25 210 17.62 5,582 17.00
South 334 16.47 391 16.11 8,289 18.45
West 194 14.43 212 18.40 4,744 18.63
Size of place of residence
< 6,000 people 313 11.82 194 20.10 5,535 16.55
6,000-24,999 238 15.97 265 14.34 6,124 16.35
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
25,000-110,999 224 14.73 268 16.79 5,993 18.34
111,000+ 223 17.04 238 15.55 4,815 19.67
Political orientation
Liberal 237 18.99 246 22.36 4,966 21.97
Moderate 321 12.46 352 16.48 7,485 15.22
Conservative 409 14.43 335 13.43 7,590 17.15
Note: The total number of observations may not add up to the total reported in the first row, due to issing
data in some variables.
Table 2: Logistic regression of likelihood of having had extramarital sex,
ever married respondents, GSS 1991 and 2018
Background characteristics 1991 2018 1991-2018
Marital status
Married 1.000 1.000 1.000
Widowed 0.861 1.369 1.207*
Divorced 2.388*** 2.496*** 2.749***
Separated 4.656*** 2.867** 3.912***
Male 1.000 1.000 1.000
Female 0.412*** 0.420*** 0.518***
White 1.000 1.000 1.000
Black 2.254* 1.736+ 1.366***
Other 0.795 0.934 0.840
Age group
18-40 1.000 1.000 1.000
41-54 1.651* 1.328 1.413***
55-64 1.247 1.427 1.585***
65+ 0.763 1.799+ 1.270***
Attend religious services
Never 1.000 1.000 1.000
1-2 times/year 0.840 0.898 0.977
3+ times/year 0.612 1.305 0.777***
1-3 times/week 0.472* 0.651 0.731***
Weekly or more 0.399** 1.034 0.669***
Educational attainment
Less than HS 1.000 1.000 1.000
High school 1.546 1.495 1.381***
Junior college 0.934 1.751 1.222*
Bachelor 0.698 1.432 1.184*
Graduate 0.952 0.841 1.387***
Work status
Full time 1.000 1.000 1.000
Part time 0.729 0.775 1.066
Other 0.948 1.073 0.925
Region of residence
Northeast 1.134 0.664 0.855*
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
Midwest 1.001 0.884 0.970
South 1.093 0.855 1.066
West 1.000 1.000 1.000
Size of place of residence
< 6,000 people 1.000 1.000 1.000
6,000-24,999 1.358 0.756 0.985
25,000-110,999 1.260 0.829 1.079
111,000+ 1.035 0.703 1.072
Political orientation
Liberal 1.000 1.923** 1.272***
Moderate 0.785 1.249 0.909*
Conservative 1.000 1.000 1.000
-2 Log Likelihood 700.763 769.448 17,016.388
Number of cases 949 924 19,772
+ P 0.10 *P 0.05 **P 0.01 ***P 0.001
We employ logistic regression for the multivariate
analysis to test our hypotheses and verify if racial
and gender differences in EMS reported in previous
studies are valid in our 1991-2018 datasets when
other socio-demographic characteristics are held
constant. The results from the three models – 1991,
2018, and 1991-2018 are shown in Table 2.
We present the results in two steps. First, we
examine the levels and trends of EMS in the last
three decades. Second, we analyze the factors
associated with the likelihood of having EMS in
1991-2018, and the combined dataset containing
cases from all the 15 waves (1991-2018).
Trends in Extramarital Sex
The percentage of Americans who reported
EMS has fluctuated in the last three decades for
which we have data from the GSS. The first year
(in 1991) when the question was included in the GSS
questionnaire, 14.63% of ever-married Americans
reported having had EMS. Nearly three decades
later (in 2018), that figure was 16.48% (Table 1).
The highest rate was reported in the 2006 GSS data,
where almost 20 percent (19.84%) of Americans
reported having had EMS experience in their lifetime
(Figure 1).
Consistent with previous studies (Whisman &
Snyder, 2007; Tafoya & Spitzberg, 2007), data
show a difference in the level of EMS between men
and women. In 1991, about 11 percent (10.55%)
of women had EMS compared to 21.20% of men.
These rates increased slightly for both categories
in 2018 to about 12 percent (11.76%) for women
and 22.57% for men (Table 1). Overall, men have
reported more sexual permissive behavior in the last
three decades as compared to women (Figure 1).
Racial differences between blacks and whites have
also been consistent in the last three decades
(Figure 2). In 1991, 13.46% of white participants
and 25.49% of black participants reported engaging
in EMS. In 2018, the rate for blacks who reported
engaging in EMS had decreased by one percent,
whereas, the rate for whites increased by a little more
than two percent (Table 1). Further, our findings show
that individuals who were divorced and those who
were separated reported higher rates of EMS than
both currently married and widowed participants
(Table 1).
Other interesting trends observed in Table 1 are on
age, religiosity, and political orientation variables.
In the 1991 data, participants in age group
65+ reported lower levels of EMS (7.73%).
By contrast, the same age-group reported the
highest levels of EMS in 2018 (21.32%), suggesting
that the current trend in EMS is being driven by older
generations. The information in Table 1 also shows
that religiosity has a negative correlation with EMS
behavior. However, this finding is only found in the
1991 data. Individuals who frequently attended
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
religious services were associated with a lower
rate of EMS in the 1991 data, but not in the 2018
data. As much as religious practices and teachings
seemed to strengthen participants’ moral values in
the 1991 data, the same was not found in the 2018
data. As for political orientation, liberals reported
more EMS than conservatives and moderates. The
binary associations between EMS and each of the
following variables did not show clear trends in Table
1: education, work status, region of residence, and
size of place of residence.
In the next section, we examine whether the
results described above remain significant when
other factors are considered? More specifically,
is there a significant convergence or divergence
in rates of EMS, for example, between white and
black participants or between men and women?
Extramarital Sex Factors
The results from logistic regression models in
Table 2 show significant changes in the likelihood
of engaging in EMS by race and sex. The logistic
regression models are presented for 1991, 2018,
and 1991-2018. As earlier noted, the 1991 and
2018 models are used to examine the determinants
of EMS in comparative perspectives to determine
changes in years 1991 and 2018. The 1991-2018
model gives an overall view of the determinants of
Americans’ EMS in the last three decades.
Four of the 10 independent variables analyzed in this
study are statistically significant correlates of EMS
in all the three models in Table 2. These are marital
status, sex, race, and age. In all three models, results
show that divorced participants were 2 to 3 times
more likely to report having had EMS as compared
to currently married participants. The ratios were
3 to 5 times for separated participants. Although
we are unable to establish a causation in this study,
such findings suggest that some of those union
dissolutions may be linked to EMS.
The gender effect is consistently significant across
the three models. Women were less likely to report
EMS than men. Similarly, blacks were more likely to
report EMS than whites in 1991, 2018, and in the
combined model (1991-2018). Age was statistically
significant in each of the three models in Table 2,
but there were some important changes overtime.
In 1991, only individuals in age-group 41-54 were
statistically significantly more likely to report EMS
than those below age 41. In 2018, only those in
age-group 65+ were marginally significantly more
likely to report EMS. In the combined model
(1991-2018), all those in age-groups (41-54, 55-65,
and 65+) were significantly more likely to report EMS
than those in the younger cohort (18-40).
All other correlates show different associations
in each of the three models. In the 1991 model,
consistent with the results in Table 1, only religiosity
was statistically significant, with those who frequently
attended religious services being less likely to
report having had EMS compared to those who
did not attend such services. This variable was not
significant in the 2018 model. In the 2018 model,
only political orientation was statistically significant,
with liberals being nearly 2 times more likely to report
having had EMS than conservatives.
The third model combined data from all the
15 waves of GSS. The results are similar to those
in the previous two models for marital status, sex,
and race. For age, our data show higher probability
of EMS in older generations compared to those in
age group 18-40, however, the association is not all
linear. In contrast, the results in the combined model
show that religiosity was negatively associated with
the likelihood of EMS; those who attended religious
services more often were significantly less likely to
report having had EMS.
The other significant variables in the combined data
are education, region of residence, and political
orientation. All respondents who had high school
education or more were significantly more likely to
report having had EMS than those with less than high
school education. The region of residence also had
significant impact on EMS, with those in Northeast
significantly less likely to have engaged in EMS
than their counterparts in the West. Finally, when we
examined the entire period of 1991-2018, we found
that participants with liberal political views were
significantly more likely to report having had EMS
than their conservative counterparts. Interestingly,
“moderates” were significantly less likely to have
engaged in EMS in the combined model.
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
We also ran a logistic regression model only for
the year of the survey as an independent variable.
The purpose of that model was to examine
changes in the likelihood of EMS in each of the
15 cross-sectional GSS datasets, using the first
survey (1991) as the reference category. The results
revealed some significant variations overtime.
For example, the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004,
2006, and 2016 survey participants were significantly
more likely to report having engaged in EMS than
those interviewed in the first wave in 1991 (at
p<=0.05), and marginally significant (at p<=0.10)
for those interviewed in 2010, 2012, and 2014. No
significant difference was found between the 1991
survey respondents and those interviewed in the
1993, 1994, 2008, and 2018 surveys.
Discussion and Conclusions
The purpose of this paper was to analyze the
levels and trends in EMS in the US in the last three
decades. The results showed a slight increase
in the percent of participants who had engaged
in EMS from 14.63% in 1991 to 16.48% in 2018,
but that difference between the two years was not
statistically significant. However, racial and gender
differences were statistically significant in 1991 and
2018. Overall, the rate of EMS was higher for blacks
than for whites and for men than for women, which
confirmed our main gender difference hypothesis,
but the racial convergence thesis.
The findings showed higher rates of EMS among
blacks than among whites in the last three decades.
Therefore, our hypothesis of racial convergence in
EMS was not confirmed in this study. Rather, our
results are consistent with previous studies which
reported higher rates of EMS among blacks than
among whites (Treas & Giesen, 2000; Amato &
Rogers, 1997). The fact that our results showed
significant racial differences throughout the last three
decades even after controlling for the effects of other
variables suggests the existence of social factors
pertaining to EMS behavior specific to each race.
The results on gender differences confirm our
hypothesis which predicted higher rates of EMS
among men than women. These findings are
consistent with previous studies which showed that
around the world, and regardless of race and local
cultural norms, men are more likely to engage in
EMS than women (Schmitt 2003). These findings
provide strong support for the evolutionary thesis
that men follow psychological adaptation strategies
that motivate a desire for EMS. Because of their
lower investment than women in the lives of their
biological offspring, men don’t lose much from
engaging in EMS (Trivers 1972). This may explain
why men tend to seek a variety of noncommittal short
sexual relationships than women (Buss & Schmidt,
1993: 210).
In addition, we found significant associations
between EMS, marital status and age in all our
models. The results on marital status are consistent
with previous work that showed a positive association
between marital affairs and union dissolution. Like
in Elizabeth S. Allen and David C. Atkins’ (2012)
study, we found that compared to currently married
individuals, those who were separated or divorced
were significantly more likely to have had EMS.
Although we are unable to establish causation
in this study, the direction and strong significant
association between reporting EMS and being
divorced or separated suggests that a large number
of participants who were no longer married at the
time of the survey may have dissolved their marital
union as a result of extramarital affairs. The findings
on age show higher probability of EMS among older
participants as compared to those aged 18-40 years;
but that association was not linear. Nonetheless,
the older generations exhibit higher tendencies
to engage in EMS in recent years, confirming our
sexual habituation or satiation (O’Donohue & Geer,
1985; Homans, 1974) hypothesis of the positive
association between age and marital infidelity.
The results on religiosity, which measures the
frequency of attendance in religious services, show
a significant change in the last three decades.
In 1991, individuals who reported attending religious
services more frequently were less likely to engage
in EMS, whereas those who attended less often
were more likely to report infidelity. This is consistent
with previous studies that used data from the 1990s
(Amato & Rogers, 1997; Choi et al., 1994). However,
in 2018, religiosity was no longer statistically
significant, suggesting a decline in the role of
religiosity as a moral guiding factor in marital fidelity.
But when we analyzed the combined data from last
three decades, religiosity remained an important
DJAMBA & KIMUNA, Current Research Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 03(1), 06-18 (2020)
factor of EMS. This finding suggests a moral facet at
play; where, most religions and societies have moral
codes for marriage that indicate EMS behavior to
be morally wrong. Married couples take vows to be
faithful and therefore, breaking the promise of fidelity
is a form of cheating or deception.
Education was not statistically associated with EMS
in 1991 and in 2018, except when data from all the
15 survey waves (1991-2018) were combined and
analyzed. In the three-decade model, education
was statistically significantly associated with EMS
even though the relationship was not linear. While
we are not sure why people with a high school level
of education and above engage in EMS than their
counterparts with less education, we can speculate
that education probably reduces the fear of social
control and conformity to traditional values. It is also
possible that education is a factor of exposure, which
increases the opportunity to alternative mates.
Like education, the results for region of residence
were only significant in the three-decade model,
where residents from the Northeast were significantly
less likely to engage in EMS than those in the West
(the reference category). As for political orientation,
there were no significant differences between
liberals, moderates, and conservatives in 1991.
However, liberals were more likely to engage in
EMS than conservatives in the 2018 data. This
pattern remained constant even when all the
three-decade data were pooled together; liberals
were significantly more likely to have engaged
in EMS than conservatives. It was interesting to
note that moderates were significantly less likely
to engage in EMS in the three-decade model. In
contrast, we did not find any significant correlation
between the size of place of residence or work
status and EMS.
Overall, our results show that despite the
sociodemographic changes observed in the three
decades, there are still significant racial and
gender differences in EMS in the US. While gender
differences are now well explained along the
evolutionary psychology theory, more research is
needed to develop robust theoretical frameworks for
studying racial differences in EMS in the US.
We recognize the limitations of the data due in large
part to their cross-sectional nature and the potential
reporting bias, which leads to validity issues.
This bias pertains to the measure of EMS; thus, it is
likely that the behavior was underreported. Further,
it is unlikely that the measure includes EMS that
is condoned (swingers), tolerated (non-committed
monogamy), or yet to be discovered. Nevertheless,
our findings show that racial and gender differences
in extramarital sexual behavior in the US have
remained statistically significant in the last three
decades. However, more theoretical developments
are needed to explain higher rates of extramarital sex
among blacks than whites and other racial groups.
Preliminary results of this research were presented
at the annual meeting of the Population Association
of America held in Austin, Texas (USA) in April 10-13,
2019. The authors thank conference participants for
their useful comments and suggestions that were
used to improve the quality of this article. The authors
are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their
comments and suggestions.
The views expressed in this article are those of
the authors, and do not represent the views of the
California Department of Public Health or East
Carolina University.
The authors received no financial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... The public acceptance of extramarital sex is an important issue in the world today. The 30 year data of the US General Social Surveys from 1991 to 2018 show that the incidence of extramarital sex among people with a history of marriage was 14.63% and 16.48% in 1991 and 2018, respectively [17]. The actual occurrence of extramarital sex is always accompanied by the public's attitude toward extramarital sex: in 1960-1990, the American people's tolerance for extramarital sex significantly increased [18]. ...
... Religion, education, gender, and social freedom are the core independent variables [21][22][23]. Tolerance of extramarital sex is significantly affected by race (whites are more tolerant than blacks), age (the older a person is, the higher their tolerance), population size of the residential community (the larger the size is, the higher the tolerance), and political orientation (liberals are more tolerant than neutrals and conservatives) [17]. Religion, as a manifestation of social control, has an important impact on sexual fidelity in marriage. ...
... Although there is a correlation between cognition and behavior, there is also a huge gap between them. Studies in the United States and the United Kingdom are based on the actual occurrence of extramarital sex as a measure [17,27,29]. The actual incidence of extramarital sex is much higher in men than in women. ...
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There is a lack of quantitative studies on the acceptance of extramarital sex in China. Based on data from the Chinese General Social Survey 2013 (CGSS2013), this paper used a zero-inflated Poisson regression model to analyze the factors influencing the public’s attitudes toward extramarital sex. When other variables were controlled, groups of younger ages, higher educational levels, and stronger tendencies toward “liberalization” and non-Islamic beliefs were more tolerant toward extramarital sex, whereas gender and Christian beliefs had no significant influence. In this regard, family and marriage counseling, and society’s moral tolerance and social control of religion are discussed, and further research on cross-cultural verification is needed.
... In the analysis of more recent GSS data, Wolfinger (2017) has found that by 2016, 20% of older respondents indicated that their marriages were nominally adulterous, compared to 14% for people under 55, and that these people are mostly in relationships of 20 to 30 years. Along with the higher rate of cheating, relationship dissolution is more common among those who reported extramarital sex (OR = 2.7/3.9 for divorced/separated persons), which points to its potential destructive effect on long-term relationships (Djamba and Kimuna, 2020). ...
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Introduction Divorce rates among individuals aged 50 and above are on the rise. Given the greater life expectancy compared to previous generations, this is an issue that is affecting an increasing number of people. Therefore, it warrants an inquiry into the challenges these individuals encounter in their intimate relationships. Methods This study analyzed 225 relationship-related queries posted on Czech counselling websites to identify the strains and stressor patterns that older adults face in their relationships. The queries were limited to those that concerned themes and problems related to partnerships, were posted by one of the partners aged 60 or over, and were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. Results Four main relationship issues were identified: infidelity and jealousy; relationship estrangement and cooling; undesirable changes in personality; and illness and somatic issues. Additionally, three recurring themes were identified that made the problems more demanding and that were specific to older age: lack of norms for relationships in that age group, absence of resources to tackle the issues, and personal calculation for Time Spent and Time Remaining. Discussion The research found that the types of problems encountered by older adults were similar to those experienced by younger individuals. However, the way these problems were perceived and processed was influenced by specific aspects of aging, such as societal expectations, available coping resources, and the perception of time. The findings also highlighted the challenges faced by older adults in terms of relationship norms, sexual functioning, and personality changes.
... For men, the wife's infidelity may cause the husband to raise an offspring who does not have his genes (Buss, 1996). In the United States, previous studies have found that 10%-15% of married women report having engaged in extramarital sex at some point during their marriages (Djamba & Kimuna, 2020;Wiederman, 1997), and that is about 13.4% in China (Hou & Pan, 2018). Therefore, fathers face paternal uncertainty (Buss, 1996;Trivers, 1972). ...
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Mothers have almost 100% certainty of their relationship with their offspring, but fathers face paternal uncertainty, which affects not only parental investment but also grandparents’ investment in grandchildren. However, due to Chinese patriarchal culture and preference for sons, grandparents may give their grandchildren different investments by gender. To explore the psychological and behavioral mechanisms of grandparents’ emotional investment in grandchildren from both cultural and evolutionary perspectives, this study collected data from 642 Chinese participants who had impressions of all four grandparents and measured their relationships with their grandparents and other demographic variables. After controlling for the number of grandchildren, participant’s age, region, etc., a significant interaction between the grandchild’s gender and grandparent categories was found. Simple effect analysis and post-hoc analysis showed significant differences in grandsons’ intimacy with maternal grandmothers and grandfathers, but no other grandparents, while granddaughter’s intimacy with maternal grandmothers was significantly higher and with paternal grandfathers significantly lower than with other grandparents, and there were no other significant differences. Those results support human psychology and behavior are jointly influenced by evolution and culture.
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Infidelity is a common phenomenon in marriages but is poorly understood. The current study examined variables related to extramarital sex using data from the 1991-1996 General Social Surveys. Predictor variables were entered into a logistic regression with presence of extramarital sex as the dependent variable. Results demonstrated that divorce, education, age when first married, and 2 "opportunity" variables - respondent's income and work status - significantly affected the likelihood of having engaged in infidelity. Also, there were 3 significant interactions related to infidelity: (a) between age and gender, (b) between marital satisfaction and religious behavior, and (c) between past divorce and educational level. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.
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This article discusses how the 1965 Supreme Court Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which narrowly defined marital privacy to include only monogamous and reproductive sex, contextualizes depictions of suburban swingers. Focusing on narratives of swingers in John Updike’s Couples and Rick Moody’s novel The Ice Storm, issues of privacy and surveillance complicate and problematize marital sexuality, making swinging difficult to sustain. The confluence of restrictive legal and liberal cultural discourses and their influence on marital relationships are depicted in the texts examined in this article, which offer insight into the problem of marital privacy. Updike’s novel Couples depicts swinging as a revolutionary act: in one sense, swinging upends the post war, conservative marital structure, and in another, it results in a “revolution,” a circuit back to where the couples began. This article then turns to Rick Moody’s 1994 novel The Ice Storm, which offers a retrospective look at suburban sexual excess and the negative impact this behavior had on the children of the privileged suburban enclave. The confluence of different legal, social, and cultural pressures on married couples to maintain normative sexual behavior cannot be overcome in these texts.
This paper provides a literature review of the incongruence between Americans’ beliefs and practices regarding marriage. In the United States, marriage is conceptualized as a monogamous, lifelong partnership. Yet American practices do not support this conceptualization, which is evidenced by infidelity and divorce rates that approximate 25-50 percent. This paper explores the incongruence and examines how cultural shifts in marital practices have contributed to higher rates of infidelity and divorce. Information is presented about the purpose of marriage, and attitudes and practices regarding infidelity and divorce. We present these topics using a sociohistorical context and describe how the nature of marriage has changed over time. It is argued that the purpose of marriage has shifted from being a social obligation to a choice based on personal fulfillment; and that this shift puts individuals at greater risk of infidelity and divorce. Throughout the paper, and particularly in the concluding section, we offer commentary about how the incongruence between marital beliefs and practices can be reconciled at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual levels.
Extramarital involvement (EMI) occurs with high prevalence among couples in clinical and community settings, frequently resulting in considerable distress both to participants and their spouses. The field lacks a synthesized review of this literature. Without such a synthesis, it has been difficult for researchers and clinicians to have an understanding of what is and is not known about EMI. This article reviews the large and scattered EMI literature using a framework that encompasses multiple source domains across the temporal process of engaging in and responding to EMI. In addition, this review delineates conceptual and methodological limitations to previous work in this area and articulates directions for further research.
A sample of largely middle class and white British women and men has provided both quantitative and qualitative data about their attitudes and beliefs towards maintaining the sexual exclusivity rule of marriage and about any 'adulterous liaisons' they may have had. In this paper, mainly quantitative material is employed to show striking differences in attitudes and in reported behaviour in different age cohorts and between women and men. In particular the youngest women are the most 'permissive', waiting the least time following marriage for a first liaison although they still overwhelmingly believe in sexual fidelity when they marry. This group has 'overtaken' men in both attitude and behaviour. The group least concerned about sexual fidelity in marriage 'now' (as compared with when they first married) are those who have stayed married for over ten years to the same spouse but who themselves have had at least one liaison. Those most concerned are women who have remarried following a divorce in which adultery (either their own or their husband's) was relevant. It appears that gender is more salient than age. The most marked changes are traced to the decade 1968-78 when macrostructural and cultural events of greatest relevance to women occurred. Two especially are identified: the return of married women in large numbers into paid, albeit intermittent, employment outside the home and the widespread influence of what is here called the Myth of Me, a powerful belief in the need to develop the self -- 'self-actualisation'.
This study investigated the extent to which reports of marital problems in 1980 predicted divorce between 1980 and 1992, the extent to which these problems mediated the impact of demographic and life course variables on divorce, and gender differences in reports of particular marital problems and in the extent to which these reports predicted divorce. Wives reported more marital problems than husbands did, although this was due to husbands' tendency to report relatively few problems caused by their spouses. A variety of marital problems predicted divorce up to 12 years in the future. A parsimonious set of marital problems involving infidelity, spending money foolishly, drinking or drug use or both, jealousy, moodiness, and irritating habits mediated moderate proportions of the associations between demographic and life course variables and divorce.