What Kind of People Cheat on Their Spouses?
Updated: Jan 24
Humans are fascinated with sex. Sure, there’s a biological imperative to reproduce, but humanity has taken a hardwired survival trait and turned it into something much more complicated. Every component of sex is juxtaposed by another, often ridiculously opposite, element. The act is physical and emotional. It’s beautiful and disgusting. It can be with the love of your life or a one-night stand. It’s a case study in duality, and it should surprise no one that “faithful” relationships have an opposing nemesis as well.
The concept of infidelity isn’t new. Generations of humans have found themselves blindsided by a partner’s wandering ways, and later wondered if there was any way to avoid “cheaters;” to know what sort of person cheats consistently. The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is a lot like sex, messy, occasionally offensive, and often hilarious.
Today, we have something no humans ever had before. The internet, and troves upon troves of data.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of studies related to cheating and infidelity. Some are definitely more questionable than others, and even the most recent, peer-reviewed scholarly publications are torn apart within the academic community. We’ve gathered a few highlights from a variety of studies, and laid them out, in no particular order, below.
The Broad Numbers
In general, men are more likely than women to cheat: 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married, according to data from the recent General Social Survey(GSS).
However, this gender gap varies by age. Among ever-married adults ages 18 to 29, women are more likely to be guilty of infidelity (11% vs. 10%). This reverses among those aged 30 to 34 and widens throughout middle age.
Women in their 60s report the highest rate of infidelity (16%), but this declines among women in their 70s and 80s. By comparison, the infidelity rate is highest among men in their 70s (26%) and remains high (24%) for those aged 80 and older.
Thus, the infidelity gender gap peaks among the oldest age group (ages 80+): a difference of 18 percentage points between men and women.
Facebook once claimed they could estimate the length of a user’s relationship. Turns out, they've got some pretty good data to back their argument -- you know, since Facebook is a big part of the problem. This study published in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking suggests that the social networking site leads users to re-connect with old flings, which in turn is leading to more affairs, breakups or divorces.
That’s just… great.
Location, Location, Location
Ashley Madison, the infamous extra-marital affair dating website, asked over 40,000 cheaters where they wined and dined their slice-on-the-side. Sadly, the top ten list included Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, P.F. Chang’s, and Taco Bell.
Keeping with the “location,” theme, Ashley Madison also asked their users to rank their go-to kinks when having an affair. According to the results, 28% of the Ashley Madison users said anal sex was their favorite kink.
The remaining 17% chose role play, 15% “edging,” 11% exhibitionism, 10% endorsed voyeurism, and the other 19% was apparently too embarrassing for Madison to publish.
Hair Color May Play a Role
According to this study, blondes make up 42 percent of the population of unfaithful women. Redheads were right behind at 23 percent and brunettes at 20 percent. Black hair was the safest bet, as they only made up 11 percent of the cheaters polled.
The same study found that brown-haired men were the biggest cheaters, at about 40 percent of the site’s population. At 32 percent, black-haired men came in second and blondes followed at 20 percent.
It’s a glaring stereotype, right? According to a survey of more than 5,000 women, 65 percent of those who cheat do so at their place of employment, and those in the educational field led the pack.
They’re People with Longer Ring Fingers
A 2015 study published by Oxford University and Northumbria University in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters looked at finger measurements from more than 1,300 people, and surveys of almost 600 volunteers in the U.K. and U.S. and found that individuals with ring fingers longer than the index fingers of the same hand were more likely to be sexually unfaithful than those whose ring and index fingers were roughly equal in length.
Women with Men Who Have Longer Penises
In a surprising turn of events (and an inversion of popular mythology), men with longer penises may be more likely to be cheated on, according to a joint study published in the journal PLOS ONE by scientists from the Center for Microbiology Research in Kisumu, Kenya; Kenyatta University in the capital Nairobi; the University of California; and University of Alabama.
The research, which was conducted to learn about people’s affairs and reduce the spread of HIV, questioned 545 fishermen’s wives in Kenya, 34 of whom said they’d had affairs. As the report’s authors wrote,
“Surprisingly, spouse longer fully erect penis was associated with increased likelihood of the women having extra-marital partnerships. From these results, every one inch longer penis increased the likelihood of women being involved in extra-marital partnership by almost one-and-half times. Similarly, our qualitative data also support this finding. Women associated large penises with pain and discomfort during sex which precludes the enjoyment and sexual satisfaction that women are supposed to feel.”
Having A Higher IQ
This is another one that sounds super strange. But yes, there is a connection between a higher IQ and the chance someone might cheat. One study showed that more intelligent individuals (as measured by IQ) are more likely to cheat on their partners. Researchers speculated a key factor may be how those with higher IQs tend to bring in more income — and how that might open up their options in the dating pool.
Early Abandonment by Parents
From a psychological standpoint, experts say there may be a connection between people who fall into a pattern of serial cheating, and those who experienced early separation or abandonment by a mother or father. According to Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, “Examples include divorce, a parent leaving and not returning, or an angry parent who rages toward the child unexpectedly and abusively (physically or verbally).” Because of these difficulties during childhood, a possible fear of abandonment could make having healthy relationships difficult, which may lead to cheating.