Before we get into the details, we have listed some key infidelity statistics below.
Table of Contents
Infidelity in relationships is a common and complex problem that has been around for centuries. Even though non-monogamous relationships are becoming more common, the majority of people still expect their partner to remain faithful to them. Yet, cheating is widespread.
Despite this, infidelity is often a taboo topic. For that reason, there are a lot of myths flying around about how common it is and who cheats more. In fact, there are some false statistics out there that even claim the majority of men cheat. Hopefully, this article will help clear some of that up.
In this article, we’ll look at the exact figures and infidelity statistics to find out how people view cheating, who cheats the most, why they cheat, and what the typical outcomes of infidelity are.
We’ll look at demographics, like gender, age, race, religion, political views, location, education level, and economic status. We’ll also look at some less commonly known factors associated with cheating like genetics, early childhood experiences, and innate personality traits.
Then we’ll take a look at who people are cheating with, what their affairs look like, and how common it is to admit to the affair. We’ll also take a peak at divorce rates and some other miscellaneous statistics that are helpful to know.
Let’s see what the latest infidelity statistics tell us about cheating in today’s world.
What do people think about infidelity overall? Unsurprisingly, even with the rise of open-relationships, most people are not on board with cheating. However, there is some variation based on geographic location and culture.
The vast majority of Americans felt that affairs outside of one’s marriage were “always wrong.” Women were more likely to feel this way.Interestingly, however, the vast majority of those who had engaged in infidelity considered their own actions justified4.
Worldwide, different countries have different opinions on whether affairs are inherently wrong. The French are the most accepting, with many not considering it a big deal, followed by the Spanish. On the other hand, more people from Turkey and Palestine found cheating to always be unacceptable than anywhere else.
What constitutes cheating? It turns out there’s a wide variety of definitions, and men and women differ on their opinions here.
In one study, the vast majority of both men and women agreed that emotional infidelity could occur independently of sexual infidelity. However, a smaller portion of men thought that the opposite was true. Women are also more likely to consider an emotional attachment with someone else as an adulterous behavior.
There was also a lot of discrepancy in opinions on what constitutes emotional infidelity among both men and women. However, there are some commonly agreed upon themes. One was attending important events with someone other than their partner. The other was being dishonest to one’s partner about who they’re spending time with.
Research has found that women tend to become more upset over an emotional affair than men do6. Yet, both men and women found sexual affairs equally troubling.
What else counts? Most women consider holding hands a form of cheating. The vast majority of people agreed that spending too much time with another person who you have feelings for is also cheating.
Who cheats more - men or women? There is definitely a gender difference when it comes to infidelity, and married women cheat less overall. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), 20% of male respondents and 13% of female respondents admitted to cheating1.
Notably, however, this gender gap varies significantly by age. In older adults, men are significantly more likely to stray.
Conversely, in younger age groups, this gap is quite small. In fact, in the 18-29 age range, married women are actually slightly more likely to cheat, as seen below. While this quickly reverses, men and women cheat at relatively equal rates through their 40s, and the gap widens after that.
Research suggests that the infidelity rate increases in older age groups8. Specifically, individuals in their 50s and 60s are the most likely to cheat8. However, this rate declines significantly after this age range. Married women are most likely to cheat at 45 whereas married men reach their cheating peak at 559.
Interestingly, Ashley Madison, a website for married individuals looking for affairs, found that most members join the year before a big milestone birthday10. In other words, individuals are more likely to consider cheating at 29, 39, 49, and so on. This could be because of a potential life crisis as they age.
Another data point of note is that women who marry later in life are less likely to commit adultery than those who marry at a younger age11.
When it comes to race, black individuals have the highest rate of infidelity. This discrepancy is largest among males. Hispanics were found to be the least likely to cheat, while white people fell in the middle. Researchers are not sure why this is the case, but it could be due to cultural and economic differences.
Another demographic that correlates with infidelity rates is geographic location. Research has found that people living on the west coast were more likely to be unfaithful than those living in the northeast.
Interestingly, those in small, rural towns were also more likely to engage in extramarital affairs than those living in cities. This is somewhat surprising since they’re also more likely to get caught. One possible explanation is that people in smaller towns are more likely to get bored.
When we look at infidelity rates by country, we see a big discrepancy between cultures. The highest infidelity rate is found in Thailand, followed by Denmark. Notably, these are not the same cultures that find infidelity the most acceptable.
While there is no known correlation between infidelity and religious denomination4, there is a correlation with religious behavior and how devoted one is. 14% of married people who attended services at least a few times a year admitted to cheating, compared to 19% of those who rarely, if ever, attended religious services1.
The data on political demographics of cheaters isn’t quite clear-cut. Some studies have found that 18% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans report engaging in extramarital affairs1.
However, Ashley Madison reports that 60% of their members are Republican. They also note that these members tend to prefer other Republicans when looking for an affair partner14.
Most studies have found that there was no significant correlation between infidelity rate and education level1. However, one study found that those with the highest and lowest levels of education are the most likely to have an extramarital affair15.
Data from Ashley Madison confirms that members are more likely than the general population to have higher degrees. 3% of members hold a PhD compared to only 0.7% of the population as a whole14. Also interesting, 53% of members say they have a higher degree than their spouse14.
Other research indicates that education level only has an impact on the risk of men cheating. Married women were equally likely to engage in infidelity regardless of their education level9.
It is important to note, however, that correlations with education level may actually be better explained by differences in economic status since the highly educated tend to have higher income levels.
What role does financial well-being play in infidelity? Research has found that individuals with higher income levels are more likely to be unfaithful4. This could be due to both increased opportunity and less fear of being found out. If a person is well-off, the cost of losing their spouse may not be as devastating.
On the other hand, a partner who is financially dependent on their spouse is less likely to cheat4. This makes sense since the costs of the affair are higher if they are caught and face a divorce.
Another study found that married women in the upper-class were 8% more likely to cheat than those who fall into middle or lower class categories9. However, this study found that men were equally likely to cheat regardless of income level.
Believe it or not, there may be a genetic predisposition to adulterous behavior. Research has found that people who have certain types of oxytocin and vasopressin receptor genes are more likely to be unfaithful16.
In fact, 40% of women and 62% of men with these genes have participated in infidelity16. This makes sense since both of these hormones are associated with feelings of trust, love, and sexual bonding.
Limited research also suggests that there may be some genes that can lead to a lower attachment to one’s primary partner4. Naturally, this can make that person more likely to stray.
Certain innate personality traits have been found to increase the risk of having an extramarital affair. Particularly, individuals who score high in extraversion and openness to new experiences, but low in agreeableness are more likely to cheat4. This was found consistently across different cultures.
Other studies have found that those who score high in narcissism are more likely to stray17. This could be because they are less worried about their primary partners’ feelings, and they may be less concerned about the potential of getting caught.
Another study found that people who score high in the personality trait of "sociosexual orientation" were more likely to engage in affairs17. This trait means these individuals are more open to casual sex than the general population.
Studies have also found that couples that share similar personality traits were less likely to be unfaithful4. This makes sense since partners that share similarities may have higher levels of marital satisfaction.
One’s childhood and family background also influences the likelihood of adulterous behavior in marriage. 18% of those who did not grow up with both parents admitted to infidelity compared to 15% of those who had traditional, intact families1.
Both men and women are more likely to commit adultery if their parents were unfaithful to each other15. Women are more likely to cheat if they were sexually abused as children4.
Lastly, an insecure attachment style can predict cheating behaviors in later life4. Attachment styles are first formed with a caregiver during childhood, based on the quality of that relationship. If the child doesn’t feel secure in that relationship, they are likely to carry certain patterns over to romantic relationships later in life.
Now that we know the demographics of infidelity, let’s take a look at who married people are actually cheating with. Studies have found that more than half of affairs are with someone that the cheating spouse knows fairly well. It seems that infidelity is often a crime of opportunity.
In fact, another study found that many cheating men admitted to having an affair with someone they knew from work. More than half of cheating women admitted to having an affair with an existing friend. Men were significantly more likely than women to cheat with a complete stranger. Some men and women also reported cheating with an old flame.
Research has found that married men are 12 times more likely to have paid for sex at some point in their relationship than married women2. This combined with data on their likelihood of cheating with strangers points to men being more likely to seek out opportunities than women.
The majority of those who reported infidelity only ever had one affair partner. So serial cheating may be less common than previously thought.
Adultery dating website Ashley Madison reported a 10% dip in membership at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in 202019. However, several months in, membership actually increased higher than before the pandemic. They report that many of their members are now engaging in virtual affairs.
Similarly, a 2021 study found that 14.1% of married people had engaged in a virtual affair20. Another study found that between 18-25% of Tinder users are already in a monogamous relationship21. Many of these users reported using the app to find a virtual extramarital affair partner.
There still isn’t much research on virtual infidelity. This will be an interesting area to further explore scientifically to see if the reasons behind this type of cheating differ from traditional affairs.
There are many reasons why married people may cheat on their spouses. So many, in fact, that it would be impossible to cover them all here. Let’s take a look at the most commonly reported reasons in recent research.
One of the most common reasons for infidelity is dissatisfaction in the marriage22. One study found that people who considered their relationship “very happy” were less likely to stray17. However, as seen below, other studies have found that people in happy marriages still cheat4.
Women are more likely to engage in infidelity in order to fulfill emotional and intimacy needs, as opposed to physical and sexual needs4. Men are more likely to engage in affairs in order to try specific sexual activities they haven’t been able to participate in with their spouse22.
Research has found that there is an increased risk of infidelity in relationships where there is a low level of communication and self-disclosure around sexual needs and preferences17. Likewise, it is common for men to cheat when they feel less assertive with their primary partner17. Cheating could be a way for them to explore this side of themselves more freely.
Both men and women who have cheated reported that they experienced low romantic love in their marriage22. They also reported boredom, a lack of emotional support, and low frequency and quality of sex with their spouse4.
Other commonly cited reasons for cheating include low self-esteem and a desire for attention, and, in some cases, anger and a desire for revenge23. It is also common for people who cheat to report a lower level of personal commitment to their marriage17.
Apart from these reasons, a few other risk factors may help to predict infidelity rates. For instance, individuals with depression are more likely to cheat than those without4. Excessive drinking, especially in men, can also increase the chance of infidelity4.
Individuals who have been the “other person” in an affair are also more likely to cheat themselves in the future7. This may be because these individuals are more accepting of infidelity in general.
One study found that the length of a relationship presented a risk factor for cheating22. This is probably explained simply by probability; the longer a marriage continues the more opportunities for infidelity there are.
Another study found that each year the marriage lasts increases the chance of a man’s cheating by over 6%11. This might also be explained by men’s increasing likelihood of cheating as they age.
The most common time for infidelity is after seven years of marriage, on average4. However, men are more likely to engage in affairs after the 18th year of marriage, whereas women tend to remain faithful after that seventh year4.
What happens after the affair? Do spouses usually find out? In most cases, the cheating partner confesses to their spouse. The most common reason they finally came clean was guilt.
According to a study by Health Testing Centers, they also tend to admit it fairly quickly. Many tell their spouse within a week of the cheating incident. The vast majority admitted it within six months.
Nearly half of cheaters also told a friend about their infidelity.
Infidelity has been long-known as the leading cause of divorce24. One study found that more than half of those who divorced ended things right away, while others tried to make it work before the marriage eventually dissolved.
Interestingly, one study found that the unfaithful partner was more likely to ask for the divorce than the one who was cheated on11. This could be explained by the reasons they were cheating in the first place if they were unhappy in the relationship.
Of those who stayed together, almost half had to follow new rules in the relationship, such as sharing passwords or avoiding certain friends.
Men who cheated are more likely than women to remarry1. However, it should be noted that men are more likely to remarry after a divorce in general.
So what does infidelity actually look like? Men are more likely than women to engage in a one night stand17. Apart from that, research suggests the average affair lasts about six months25. However, other studies indicate they frequently last two years17.
So, are there ever successful relationships from affairs? While there are cases of affairs that result in marriage, only 20% of them make it past the five year mark25.
Once discovered by the spouse, many affairs still last another six months to two years3. This is regardless of whether the primary relationship dissolves.
Is the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater” true in practice? Well, cheating once certainly increases the likelihood of cheating again in future relationships.
In fact, one study found that individuals who engaged in infidelity in previous relationships were 3.4 times more likely to do it again in subsequent romantic relationships26. This same study also found that partners who knew or suspected a past partner was unfaithful are 2-4 times more likely to enter a new relationship with an unfaithful partner26.
How honest are past cheaters with current partners? One study found that 76% of individuals who’d been unfaithful in past relationships admitted it to their current partner3.
Here are some additional statistics you should know. Most shockingly, nearly half of cheaters don’t use adequate protection.
Also upsetting, one study found that men are actually more likely to cheat when their wives are pregnant15. However, they are less likely to be unfaithful after the child is born.
Another thing to look out for? More than half of men and women report that they have attempted “mate poaching7.” Mate poaching is when someone tries to seduce a person already in a committed relationship with someone else.
Also interesting, it’s fairly rare for both spouses to be cheating simultaneously. This is somewhat surprising since you would think that if one party is unhappy enough in the marriage to cheat they both might be more likely to feel this way.
Now that you know the facts on infidelity, you can more easily spot the signs of a cheater. Some of these statistics may seem alarming, but keep in mind that the majority of people stay faithful when in a committed, monogamous relationship.
What if you’ve been cheated on? Well, luckily, many relationships do recover and healing is very possible. Set some boundaries going forward and consider seeing a couples’ therapist to help you work through it. If you do decide to end things, that’s also valid. A counselor can help you make the right decision for you.
What do you think about these statistics? Was anything shocking? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to share with friends who may find them interesting.