07.12.10

15 Signs You'll Cheat

Do you have a Masters degree? Live in a large city? Anneli Rufus on the surprising statistics that could predict whether you—or your partner—will have an affair.

1. If you're a man, you're about 7 percent more likely to be unfaithful to your partner than a woman is.

This gender disparity occurs largely because men continue having affairs well into their 50s while women pretty much stop at 40—and that's because infidelity is at least partly spurred by a desire to spread seeds and improve the gene pool, says economist Bruce Elmslie, whose study yielded this statistic. Then again, it might just be that "males tend to admit having affairs more than women do," Elmslie says. Other studies suggest that women's infidelity rates are catching up with men's, and the adultery gap is narrowing.

Bruce Elmslie and Edinaldo, Tebaldi (2008). So, what did you do last night? The economics of infidelity. Kyklos, 61 (3), 391-410.


2. If you live in a large city, you're 39 percent more likely to have an affair than those who live in small towns and rural areas.

Anneli Rufus: 15 Signs You’ll Get DivorcedThe surer you are that you'll get away with it, the more you'll cheat, Elmslie says. "Living in a city affords more opportunity because it allows for more anonymity than a small town, where everyone knows what everyone else is doing." Relative population size also plays a role: In a big city, you can hardly turn around without seeing another five or six hundred potential bedmates.

Judith Treas and Giesen, Deirdre. Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans (2000). Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62 (1), 48-60.


3. If you earn $75,000 or more per year, you're over 150 percent more likely to have an affair than those who earn $30,000 per year or less.

"With increasing income," write the authors of the study in which this statistic appears, "it might be easier to hide the costs of entertainment or other expenses incurred as a result of being with a third person." Moreover, "individuals with higher incomes might be considered to have higher status, to travel more, or to interact professionally with more appealing individuals." And the richer one gets, the more entitled one might feel. Janis Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding the Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, says one of the main factors spurring affairs "is that sense of entitlement: the desire to have your needs met without regard for the needs of others."

David Atkins and Baucom, Donald (2001): Understanding infidelity: correlates in a national random sample, Journal of Family Psychology, 15 (4), 735-749. LINK:


4. If your husband spends 10 percent or less of his time with you, then there's at least a 10 percent chance you'll cheat on him.

"People cheat not always for the sex, but because they're lonely," explains Spring, adding that we render our partners "more vulnerable to having affairs when we don't pay attention to them or make them feel cherished or safe." The same study in which this statistic appears also found that women virtually never cheat on husbands who are in their immediate vicinity over 80 percent of the time. Unless those husbands are blind, cheating on them would be virtually impossible.

Baker, Robin. Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006, p. 48.


5. If you think about sex every day, you're 22 percent more likely to have an affair than those who think about sex just a few times a week.

Who thinks about sex just a few times a week? People who are pretty faithful to their partners, apparently. "Thinking about sex" usually translates into fantasies, says Mira Kirshenbaum, author of When Good People Have Affairs: Inside the Hearts and Minds of People in Two Relationships. "It's a sign either that someone has time on his hands and/or that he feels there's something missing in sex with his partner."

Judith Treas and Giesen, Dierdre (2000): Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62 (1), 48-60.


6. If you and your spouse lived together before getting married, there's a 39 percent chance that at least one of you will cheat on the other.

"A lot of blue-state progressives think living together before marriage is so natural that they can't understand how it could make a difference," Kirshenbaum says. "But for some people, living together rather than marrying is a sign of dissonance, lack of commitment.... Some people go on to get married as a way to solve those problems, just the way some people sometimes have children in the hope of cementing a shaky relationship." Which also doesn't work.

Dollahite, D. C., & Lambert, N. M. (2006). Forsaking all others: Marital fidelity in religious couples. Paper presented at the National Council on Family Relations annual conference. 


7. If your identical twin has had an affair, you're 200 percent more likely to have an affair yourself than if your twin had not.

A study performed at London's St. Thomas Hospital, home of the U.K.'s largest twin-research center, sought to determine which diseases and other life-factors have genetic components. Its findings suggest that infidelity is a genetic predisposition, just like cancer and the frequency of female orgasms. The same study found that if your non-identical twin has had an affair, you're 150 percent more likely to have one yourself than if your twin did not.

Lynn Cherkas et al. (2004): Genetic influences on female infidelity and number of sexual partners in humans. Twin Research, 7 (6)


8. If you're African-American, you're a little more than twice as likely than men of other ethnic backgrounds to have an affair.

"This has to do with opportunity," says Elmslie, whose study found that white men are about 7 percent less likely to have extramarital relations than nonwhite men. "The war on drugs has done damage to the black population of the United States, whose sex ratio has been severely affected" by drug-related deaths and arrests. "This has changed the dynamic," he says. Regardless of race, "when males have more opportunity"—in this case, a disproportionately large pool of women—"they will tend to act."

Judith Treas and Giesen, Deirdre (2000): Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(1), 48-60.


9. If you've never attended religious services, you're 250 percent more likely to have extramarital sex than those who attend religious services more than once a week.

"Someone who attends a religious service more than once a week has a relationship with his God and his church that significantly raises both the costs and the risks" of an affair, Kirshenbaum says. "If he's found out, there's a whole community that will be scandalized, and their disapproval will feel terrible. Plus, if God is real for you, and God cares about this—well, why risk pissing off God?" By contrast, Elmslie's study found that religious women are 4 percent less likely to have an affair than nonreligious women, yet "religion has no impact on whether men decide to have an affair." Being a religious man "doesn't make you less likely" to cheat, Elmslie declares. "Some religious leaders are the biggest infidels in our society."

David Atkins and Baucom, Donald (2001): Understanding infidelity: correlates in a national random sample, Journal of Family Psychology, 15 (4), 735-749.

Bruce Elmslie and Edinaldo, Tebaldi (2008). So, what did you do last night? The economics of infidelity. Kyklos, 61 (3), 391-410.


10. If you have an advanced college degree, you're 175 percent more likely to have extramarital sex than those who did not finish high school.

This correlates with other findings that show the likelihood of infidelity rising with income: the higher the degree, the bigger the paycheck and potential sense of entitlement. And people with advanced degrees are more likely to think they're smart enough to get away with sneaking around.

David Atkins and Baucom, Donald (2001): Understanding infidelity: correlates in a national random sample, Journal of Family Psychology, 15 (4), 735-749.


11. If you're a woman whose husband has a college degree, you're 3 percent less likely to have an affair than women whose husbands do not have college degrees.

Because college-educated husbands tend to be higher earners than other husbands, their wives are less likely to risk losing that income by wandering, Elmslie says. His study revealed that, in sharp contrast to males, "women tend to look at the full costs and benefits" of extramarital relationships — that is, women look before they leap, while men just leap.

Bruce Elmslie and Edinaldo, Tebaldi (2008). So, what did you do last night? The economics of infidelity. Kyklos, 61 (3), 391-410.


12. If you were married at age 16 or younger, you're almost 400 percent more likely to engage in extramarital sex than those who were married for the first time at 23.

"People who marry in their middle teens may be representative of those who are impulsive in intimate relationships," write the authors of this study. It's also worth noting that, when it comes to extramarital sex, those who marry at 16 or younger have at least a seven-year headstart over those who marry at 23.

David Atkins and Baucom, Donald (2001): Understanding infidelity: correlates in a national random sample, Journal of Family Psychology, 15 (4), 735-749.


13. If you're an unhappy man, you're 13 percent more likely to have an affair than happy men are.

Elmslie's study also found that unhappy women are 10 percent more likely to cheat than happy women. The subjects of the study weren't surveyed on their happiness regarding their marriages per se, but on their happiness overall: "So it's a question of cause and effect," Elmslie says. Spring adds that unexamined happiness, a kind of malaise, is one of the main factors predisposing people to affairs. "Being unaware of your own personal conflicts and blaming your unhappiness on your partner," she says. "That's a big one."

Bruce Elmslie and Edinaldo, Tebaldi (2008). So, what did you do last night? The economics of infidelity. Kyklos, 61 (3), 391-410.


14. If you have made use of online porn, you are 300 percent more likely to have an affair than someone who has never looked at online porn.

It's always hot, it's always ready, and it's just a click away. "If you crave excitement and novelty to the point of not being able to tolerate the ordinariness and the predictability of an enduring relationship, then of course you're more likely to have an affair," Spring says.

Dollahite, D. C., & Lambert, N. M. (2006). Forsaking all others: Marital fidelity in religious couples. Paper presented at the National Council on Family Relations annual conference.


15. If you enjoy spending time with your partner's relatives, you're 24 percent less likely to engage in extramarital sex than those who dislike spending time with their in-laws.

"'Like me, like my family' is not just a threat, it is a prediction," Kirshenbaum says. Loving your in-laws means that if you lose your marriage, you lose more than just a spouse—and spouses' relatives are often less willing to forgive cheaters than spouses are themselves.

Dollahite, D. C., & Lambert, N. M. (2006). Forsaking all others: Marital fidelity in religious couples. Paper presented at the National Council on Family Relations annual conference.

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and the Nautilus Award-winning Stuck: Why We Don't (or Won't) Move On, and the coauthor of still more, including Weird Europe and The Scavengers' Manifesto. Her books have been translated into numerous languages, including Chinese and Latvian. In 2006, she won a Society of Professional Journalists award for criticism.