Although the percentage of women who cheat on their partners has grown in recent years, men are still more likely to cheat overall. Differences in the way that men and women define infidelity partly explain why men and women cheat at different rates.
The most recent information from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy suggests that approximately 25 percent of married men have had sex with someone who isn’t their spouse, compared to about 15 percent of women. Results from the General Society Survey reveal that men also tend to have more liberal definitions of what constitutes cheating. Many smaller sample surveys over the years have found similar differences in attitude.
In the last two years, a joint survey from two dating websites and a joint survey by HuffPost and YouGov explored these gender differences in even more detail. The first survey was the second annual joint survey conducted by the online dating sites Christian Mingle and JDate. The 2014 results found that men are still consistently more liberal in their definitions of cheating than are women. Ninety-two percent of women and 86 percent of men said that repeated sexual encounters with another person constituted cheating. Ninety percent of women believed that passionately kissing someone other than their partner was cheating, but only 75 percent of men said that this behavior was cheating. Finally, 68 percent of women and 51 percent of men said that online flirting or sexting qualified as cheating.
Results from the HuffPost/YouGov survey were similar. Fifty-six percent of women versus 40 percent of men said that kissing another person on the lips qualified as cheating. Eighty-five percent of women believed that sexting was cheating, and 74 percent of men felt the same way. This survey also asked respondents about forming a deep emotional connection with someone other than their partner, and found that 70 percent of women and 50 percent of men believed this was cheating.
Age Plays a Role
Most surveys about infidelity have focused on gender differences, but the recent HuffPost/YouGov survey also looked at how age affected beliefs about cheating. The results revealed clear differences between younger and older respondents, with younger people inclined to be more liberal about certain kinds of extramarital connections, and older people inclined to be more liberal about others.
The survey found that older respondents were less likely to consider a kiss on the lips cheating. A strong majority of 18- to 29-year-olds (74 percent) believed that this was cheating, but the number dropped to 30 percent for the 65 and older crowd. Fifty-three percent of 30- to 44-year-olds and 38 percent of 45- 64-year-olds felt that kissing on the lips was cheating.
However, older people were more likely to consider forming a deep emotional connection to be unfaithful behavior. Sixty-nine percent of respondents 65 and older felt that a deep emotional connection with someone other than their spouse was a form of cheating, compared to 52 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29.
Closing the Gender Gap
Comparing the 2014 results of the JDate/Christian Mingle Survey with the 2013 results reveals that women’s attitudes about cheating are becoming more liberal. The same is true for men, but women appear to be loosening their definitions at a more rapid rate.
In 2013, 82 percent of women versus 56 percent of men said that sexting or online flirting was cheating. One hundred percent of women believed that passionate kissing was cheating, compared to 86 percent of men who felt this behavior qualified as cheating.
The gradually narrowing gap between the percentage of men and women who cheat on their partners, as well as the trend among women toward loosening their attitudes about cheating, suggest that these long-standing differences may have as much to do with opportunity as with anything innate.
The National Opinion Research Center found that women in 2010 were 40 percent more likely to be unfaithful to their partners than women in 1990. Some experts believe that changes in the workforce are contributing factors, with ever-greater numbers of women working outside the home, and more women having jobs that involve travel. As society and the workforce continue to become more equal opportunity, men and women may eventually become equal-opportunity cheaters.