Do most marriages have infidelity?

Infidelity in marriage is a complex issue with no simple answers. Statistics on cheating rates vary widely, and the true extent of infidelity is difficult to measure definitively. However, surveys do provide some insight into the prevalence of cheating and factors that may increase or decrease the likelihood of infidelity. This article will examine available data on infidelity rates, look at potential reasons for cheating, and explore whether “most” marriages really do experience adultery.

How common is infidelity?

Getting accurate statistics on infidelity is challenging. Definitions of cheating vary between individuals and relationships. People may be hesitant to admit infidelity, even anonymously. Survey responses likely underestimate actual behavior. However, research indicates cheating is relatively common among married couples:

  • General Social Survey data showed 15% of married women and 25% of married men admitted to extramarital sex at some point during their marriage.
  • The Institute for Family Studies reports 20% of men and 13% of women admitted to physical infidelity.
  • An Archives of Sexual Behavior study found lifetime infidelity rates of approximately 25% for married men and 15% for married women.
  • A 2018 YouGov poll indicated 34% of men and 19% of women reported being unfaithful at least once in their marriage.

So while exact statistics vary, most studies find at least 15-25% of married individuals admit to cheating. Rates are typically higher among men compared to women.

Does infidelity increase with marriage duration?

The likelihood of infidelity may increase the longer a couple stays married:

  • A 2005 University of Washington study found the lifetime infidelity rate was 22% for men and 14% for women in the first year of marriage. This increased to 37% of men and 28% of women by the seventh year of marriage.
  • Data from the General Social Survey indicates the percentage of unfaithful spouses continues to rise past the seventh anniversary, though at a slower rate.
  • However, some research shows cheating rates peak in the middle years of a marriage and then start to decline again among long-term couples together 20 years or more.

So while an increase in infidelity over time appears common, cheating rates do not seem to indefinitely rise throughout the full course of a marriage.

Does age impact infidelity?

Age Group Percentage Admitting Infidelity
18-29 years old 11%
30-39 years old 16%
40-49 years old 21%
50-59 years old 23%
60+ years old 13%

Statistics indicate the likelihood of infidelity increases with age, peaking around the 50s. Midlife factors like dissatisfaction with marriage or desire to feel young again may increase cheating behavior. After 60, infidelity rates appear to decline again.

Does gender affect infidelity rates?

The majority of research shows men are more likely to cheat than women:

  • A 2005 review found lifetime infidelity rates of around 1.5 to 3 times higher in men compared to women across studies.
  • Data from the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey found 4.4% of married men had an extramarital affair in the last year, compared to 2.9% of married women.
  • A 2010 study reported infidelity in any recent relationship was around 21% for men versus 11% for women.

Potential factors contributing to higher cheating rates among husbands include greater opportunity, social acceptability of male infidelity, and stronger sex drive among men. However, the gap in infidelity appears to be narrowing some in recent decades as gender roles shift.

Does income level predict infidelity?

Those with higher incomes do appear somewhat more likely to cheat:

  • A 2012 study found annual incomes over $75,000 correlated with higher infidelity in marriage compared to lower incomes.
  • Wealthier individuals may have more opportunity to cheat due to financial independence and travel for work.
  • However, one analysis found individuals often exaggerate actual income on cheating websites, so the link between income and infidelity may be weaker than some data shows.

Education level, often tied to income, shows mixed results regarding connections to infidelity rates. Overall, opportunity facilitated by higher incomes may increase cheating but is not a direct cause.

Do certain professions have higher infidelity rates?

Some careers do show elevated rates of cheating:

  • A 2015 YouGov poll ranked professions by probability of infidelity and found executives, actors, journalists, and police officers had the highest rates.
  • Long work hours, travel, and power associated with these careers may contribute to more cheating behavior.
  • However, doctors and lawyers are also cited as professions with increased adultery despite intense professional demands.
  • Stress alone does not necessarily predict cheating. Opportunity and peer group attitudes also play a role.

So while certain professions demonstrate higher infidelity rates, workplace factors alone do not necessarily determine cheating likelihood.

Does relationship satisfaction predict infidelity?

There are strong links between relationship happiness and cheating:

  • A 2017 poll by YouGov found rates of infidelity were 2-4 times higher among those reporting dissatisfaction in marriage.
  • Men who reported being “very happy” in marriage had just 10-12% infidelity rates, while men “not too happy” had rates around 25-28%.
  • For women, greater happiness and commitment were also associated with decreased cheating behavior.

A satisfying relationship does not make someone “immune” to infidelity. However, couples reporting high marital quality and happiness are significantly less likely to have issues with cheating.

Do children impact infidelity rates?

The effect of children on infidelity is complicated:

  • Some research shows infidelity decreases after the transition to parenthood due to increased fulfillment and marital commitment.
  • However, having children also adds stress that can negatively impact marriage. Exhaustion and lack of freedom may increase cheating behaviors.
  • Infidelity rates tend to be highest among parents of older children when demands are high and growing independence allows more opportunity to cheat.

Parenthood seems to deter infidelity initially but cheating risk may rise again as pressures increase when children are older.

Does social media enable more infidelity?

Access to social media does appear to facilitate cheating:

  • A 2020 study found active social media use was linked to an estimated 200% higher incidence of both emotional and physical affairs.
  • Flirty messages, secret accounts, and private communications on social platforms make cheating easier to conceal.
  • However, social media itself does not “cause” infidelity. Factors like relationship dissatisfaction are still the root drivers.

Social media provides more opportunity to engage in cheating behaviors but is not the sole reason affairs occur. Underlying relationship issues typically precede online infidelity.


The true rates of infidelity are challenging to quantify due to the sensitive nature of the topic. However, studies consistently show cheating is relatively common, with around 20% of married individuals admitting to extramarital affairs. Lifetime infidelity rates are higher, with some estimates reaching as high as 25-40%.

Certain factors like relationship unhappiness, gender, age, and opportunity correlate with increased rates of adultery. However, even in higher risk groups, most individuals do not engage in cheating. No single variable directly “causes” infidelity. The psychology around affairs is complex, driven by both individual motivations and situational influences.

While infidelity is far from rare, it also does not appear most marriages are afflicted by cheating. Surveys do not support the notion that the majority of marriages suffer from adultery. Faithfulness remains the norm for most committed couples. But the significant minority of spouses who do cheat show marriage is not immune from betrayal and dishonesty, despite vows of fidelity. Ultimately, the true risk of infidelity within marriage is difficult to definitively pin down.

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