Every few years researchers from the National Science Foundation at the University of Chicago ask about 10,000 Americans about their marriages and sex lives. The “General Social Survey” has been ongoing since 1972, and usually finds that 12% of men and 7% of women have sex outside of their marriages in any given year. These figures are probably low, because people who cheat in marriage tend to cheat on surveys too.
In 2006, one statistic jumped off the page of the General Social Survey. The percent of women under age 35 years old who had sex outside of their marriages was 15%, compared to 20% for men in their age group. The findings were reinforced by a different survey of 900 young people done in 2013 at Indiana University. Among these young couples, 19% of women and 23% of men had been unfaithful compared to 10% of women and 15% of men in the same survey taken twenty years ago.
These numbers represent a sea change in behavior when you consider that the earliest surveys about sex done 60 years ago by Alfred Kinsey found that men were twice as likely to be unfaithful in marriage and women. Up until 1990, this was probably still the case until the behaviors of young females seemed to change. The General Social Survey of 2010 found that 19% of all men had been unfaithful at least once in their marriages, a decrease from 21% in 1991; but the number of women involved in extramarital sex increased from 11% in 1991 to 14% in 2010. The unmistakable conclusion is that young women are closing the gender gap when it comes to marital infidelity. Sociologists attempt to explain this trend by factors like the birth control pill, more educational opportunities for women, legal abortion, more women in the workplace, and so forth.
Something is going on because young women are also closing other gender gaps as well. Researchers for the American Medical Association found that the percent of young females who drink is increasing faster than the male rate. In one AMA survey about college spring breaks, 40% of the female students said that they had trouble remembering what happened during spring break because they had been drunk or passed out part of the time.
Almost 40% of children born in the United States are now born to unmarried women. When women do choose to marry, new research is suggesting that they want less conventional arrangements that do their husbands. According to surveys done for the dating website, Match.com, 77% of young women said they need “personal space” in their relationships compared to 58% of men. Thirty-five percent of women were in favor of “girls’ nights out,” compared to 23% of men who want “guys’ nights out.” Young women are increasingly embracing raunchy humor, in that they were a surprisingly large part of the audiences who enjoyed the “Hangover” movies and the majority of the people who liked “The Bridesmaids” in 2011. Research for Ashley Madison, a “dating website for married people,” found that more women on the website send nude pictures of themselves than men.
Younger women may even be surpassing their male counterparts in yet another area involving sex. According to statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control, one in every four girls ages 14 to 19 years old now has a sexually transmitted disease.
Carollo, Kim. “Equal Opportunity Cheating: Women and Men Cheat at Same Rate,” ABC News, June 21, 2011.
Drexler, Peggy. “The New Face of Infidelity,” The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2012.
General Social Survey, The University of Chicago, see http://www3.norc.org/gss+website/
Parker-Pope, Tara. “Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity,” The New York Times, October 27, 2008.
Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Science of a Happy Marriage,” The New York Times, May 10, 2010.
Paul, Pamela. “He Sexts, She Sexts More, Report Says. The New York Times, July 15, 2011.
Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “Ambition + Desire = Trouble,” The New York Times, June 17, 2011.