Women Are Cheating More, Too — But is That So Bad?

Maybe women are still lagging on equal pay (in 2012, we earned just 80.9% of what men made), and maybe we're not as dominant in politics as our male brethren (women currently only account for 18.3% of Congressional seats). But there is apparently one area where women are shrinking the gender gap: infidelity. 

A 2010 survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center found that the percentage of wives admitting to extramarital affairs rose almost 40% over the last two decades, with 14.7% engaging in some outside hanky-panky. By comparison, 21.6% of men admitted cheating on their spouses, a number that's remained relatively constant since 1991. 

Now, you'll never catch me saying that cheating is awesome. It's always completely baffled me, actually — if you don't want to be with someone, break up. But these numbers could be a reflection of some real progress that's been made — or perhaps more like the unfortunate side effects of that progress.

Throughout our male-dominated history, it's been more illegal for a woman to cheat and the punishment more severe if she got caught. Hester Prynne got off easy compared to most adulterating women through the ages, who were often put to death (some still are, unfortunately). Adultery is actually still illegal in 23 states (someone should probably let Tiger know), but the laws are barely enforced — most likely since they'd prosecute more politicians than anyone else.

But today, women are gaining power and independence across the country, more in charge of their own fates than ever before. That 18.3% in Congress? That was less than 4% just 50 years ago. Women can fight for their country now. They can get the same education, hold the same jobs, and have the same amount of sex (if they want) without being shipped away to homes for troubled girls. While we still have miles and miles and miles to go, women are bucking the traditional gender roles that held us down for millennia.

Women are now the primary breadwinners in 40% of American households — a number practically unimaginable in any era before this one. And though that wage gap still lurks, women have become more financially independent, able to support themselves if push came to shove. Sociologist Pepper Schwartz writes that perhaps women "can afford the potential consequences of an affair, with higher incomes and more job prospects." In other words, more women are cheating simply because they can; no longer dependent on husbands for food or shelter, women are better equipped to accept the repercussions of their cheating (often, divorce).

It's hard to paint this as some super amazing statistic, but it does perhaps illustrate just how far women have come — along with some of the pitfalls that accompany that. But maybe we're entitled to those pitfalls. Equality is a two-way street; if women are approaching the same level of independence as men, maybe it's only natural that we screw up the same amount.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Devon Frye

Devon is a writer based in New York City. She is a recent graduate of New York University, where she received a BA in journalism and comparative literature, with a minor in French. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was the 2013 recipient of the Anna and John Peter Zenger Award. She has worked for Country Living Magazine and written for Scholastic MATH, and once rode on a bus for 15 hours to North Carolina to report on the plight of child farmworkers.

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