Hang on to your wedding rings because this marriage ship is going down. Actually, not at all. A new study in the American Sociological Review apparently “proves” that financially supporting your spouse increases the likelihood he’ll cheat.
News outlets are claiming that “Husbands of female breadwinners [are] most at risk for cheating” (as if cheating is an airborne disease, not a conscious decision), while hysterical headlines like “To minimize risk of infidelity, make sure you earn as much as your spouse” make it seem like we should all hang up our pantsuits and twiddle our thumbs.
To be clear, here’s what the study found:
- There is a 5 percent chance that a wife who is fully financially dependent on her husband is cheating on him.
- There is a 15 percent chance that a husband who is fully financially dependent on his wife is cheating on her.
- There is a 4 percent chance of cheating (by either the husband or wife) in a relationship where each party makes the same amount.
While it’s easy to think this study proves that having disparate incomes causes cheating, this study doesn’t actually prove that. Not at all. Correlation and causation aren’t the same thing — I might make more money than my neighbor and avoid her in the hallways, but I don’t avoid her because I make more money. I avoid her because she always asks when I’m going to have a baby and touches my stomach.
So the idea that disparate incomes cause infidelity is pretty easy to poke holes in. For example, the couples surveyed were all aged 18 to 32, which is hardly indicative of the entire married population. Maybe the reason for cheating had more to do with the age at which the couple was married. Or their education level. Or where they live. Or literally any of the millions of factors that make up a person’s identity.
Having unequal incomes can certainly cause tension in relationships, and as always, communication and honesty are paramount. But your salary doesn’t cause cheating anymore than my salary causes my neighbor to size up my uterus. This is total nonsense, and you shouldn’t be fooled.