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How Your Spouse’s Paycheck Affects Your Marriage

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Victor Harris, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

“Affair-Proof Your Marriage!” “10 Days to Deeper Intimacy!” “101 Ways to Improve Your Relationship Without Even Talking About It!”

There are certainly plenty of people out there who want to sell us or give us advice on how to make sure our marriages are working well. (Some of them might even be on target!)

Salary and Infidelity: What’s the Connection?

But of course, while there are ways we can work on this key relationship, there are also many other factors that influence it–sometimes in ways we might never have guessed. One new study in the journal American Sociological Review looks at how men’s and women’s relative salaries relate to the likelihood that they will cheat on their spouses. The results are fascinating…and not necessarily what you might expect.

Researchers surveyed about 1900 young married people between the ages of 18 and 32. As part of a larger study, they were asked how many people they’d had sex with over the course of a year and if they’d had recently sex with a “stranger.” These answers were used to determine if they had been unfaithful to their husband or wife. (Overall, about twelve percent of men and nine percent of women were found to have cheated.) The researchers also asked the men and women about how much money they had personally earned that year—and how much their spouses earned.

Income Affects Men and Women Differently

So what did income end up having to do with stepping out on your spouse? We’re probably all familiar with the stereotype of a high-earning, powerful man (often a politician!) who cheats. To some degree, this was true: men who made a lot of money relative to their wives were somewhat more likely to be unfaithful.

But wait a minute: what about women who earned way more than their husbands? Were they cheaters, too? Actually, not at all. Women who significantly outearned their spouses were among the least likely of all married adults to go outside their marriages. In fact, women who didn’t earn much money compared to their spouses—especially those who were completely financially dependent—cheated more than high-earning women!

And as a matter of fact, it was financially dependent men who were unfaithful the most. Men who were completely dependent on their wives turned out to be the most likely to be cheating on those same women.

As for those marriages where men and women earn similar amounts, they were about in the middle, with men and women both having a fairly low chance of cheating.

Gender Roles At Work

What are we to make of all this? The authors think much of it comes down to gender roles. It can be very threatening to the male identity to be outearned by a woman; as a result, men in this situation may feel a need to prove their “manliness” by cheating. Meanwhile, women who earn much more than men may feel a need to “confirm” their femininity and affirm their husbands’ masculinity by being especially faithful.

So do those of us in financially unequal partnerships need to worry? Fortunately, there’s a lot more to fidelity and infidelity than who’s making how much money. Open communication, respect, and making time for mutually enjoyable, rewarding, and exciting activities together can help keep your marriage healthy, regardless of who is bringing home the bacon.

References:

Munsch, C. L. (2015). Her Support, His Support: Money, Masculinity, and Marital Infidelity. American Sociological Review, 80(3), 469–495. doi: 10.1177/0003122415579989

Photo Credits: Ron Chapple Stock/Ron Chapple Stock/Thinkstock