A study, published in the American Sociological Review earlier this year, found that a spouse who earns less than their significant other is more likely to cheat – irrespective of gender.
The odds change significantly if the man is financially dependent on his wife, however, as in such cases there’s a 15% chance that he’ll engage in an affair, compared to a 5% chance of a financially dependent woman cheating on her husband.
On the flip-side, couples who contribute more equally towards the household are less likely to cheat on each other – a less than 4% chance to be precise.
Study author Christin Munsch, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, argues that the findings suggest that people don’t like inequality in relationships, particularly men, if they’re not the breadwinners.
“We naturally compare ourselves to our partners. It’s what we do and you don’t want to feel like you’re always coming out on the losing end of the comparison,” Munsch was quoted saying in a Business Insiderreport.
“[There’s] something about men and masculinity that makes men particularly uncomfortable when they’re economically dependent.”
The study involved analysing data from around 2 800 heterosexual married couples between the ages of 18 and 32.
Interestingly, the study also found that men who earn more than 70% more than their wives were increasingly more likely to cheat because they know their wives are so dependent on them that they’re not likely to leave him if they’re unfaithful.
Women who bring home the bacon, on the other hand, are less likely to stray.
“Extra-marital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat – that is not being primary breadwinners as is culturally expected – to engage in behaviour culturally associated with masculinity. For men, especially young men, the dominant definition of masculinity is scripted in terms of sexual virility and conquest particularly with respect to multiple sex partners,” says Munsch.
“Thus engaging in infidelity may be a way of re-establishing threatened masculinity. Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish their higher-earning spouse.”
Munsch says women who earn more than their spouses are more “acutely aware” that it goes against the societal norm or cultural expectation, and as a result, as previous research has shown, these women often suffer from increased anxiety and insomnia and tend to engage in what sociologists call “deviance neutralisation behaviours”.
Some of these behaviours include downplaying their achievements or taking up more housework to compensate.
“This emotional and physical work is designed to decrease interpersonal conflict and shore up their husbands’ masculinity. It is also aimed at keeping potentially strained relationships intact,” she says.
But, before you panic, remember that the study participants were young . . . and of course, everyone is different!