Is infidelity more common today than in the past?


Fact Box

  • The American Psychological Association reports that 20%-40% of divorces are due to infidelity
  • According to the US Census Bureau, as of July 2019, millennials, with a population of 72.1 million, have overtaken baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation.  
  • Emotional cheating is defined as, “ individual having an intense connection to another person, which usually arises through sharing emotions of which vulnerability is probably the most important.”
  • According to a Journal of Family Psychology study, over half of the respondents (53.5%) said that they had had extramarital sex with a close, personal friend.

Thomas (Past)

When we look at infidelity rates by generation, the statistics are clear: People aged 55 and older are more likely to report having extramarital sex than those under 55. In fact, the generation born in the 1940s and 50s remain the leading generation for infidelity since the 1990s. There are some obvious reasons for why this is the case, of course. Non-traditional relationships, including polyamory, are on the rise, divorce has become a more successful solution to unhappy marriages, and younger people are more willing to have sex outside of marriage. There isn't a need to cheat because there isn't a pressure to have and maintain a marriage.

Of course, there are other possible reasons we should consider the idea of previous generations being more unfaithful than current ones. With two-income households being 30% more common today than the 1970s, and couples working 10% longer hours, perhaps there is less time for affairs? And, of course, there is the added incentive of it being logistically harder to execute an illicit affair in the age of technology and constant surveillance. Everything from using special applications to taking advantage of settings every phone has, keeping track of a partner today is far easier than in years past. A person can even be caught accidentally, simply because there is always a camera somewhere. In a world where little is hidden, we are busier than ever before, and marriage isn't a necessary (or unbreakable) institution. It is no surprise to learn that the couples of today choose healthier options than infidelity.

Luna (Today)

The “State of Our Unions,' produced collaboratively by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Wheatley Institution and School of Family Life at BYU, releases a yearly report called 'iFidelity.' This project is centered on staying true to one's partner in an age of social media and technology. Primarily aimed at researching Generation X and millennials' cheating behaviors, after researching 2,000 adults, the study found Gen X and millennials 'were more likely to engage in online infidelity or online dalliances' as compared to their older generations counterparts. One major factor in bringing about this change is social media. The ease of access and the wide array of global communication tools available freely online complicate maintaining boundaries. As we connect with more and more people, from different cultures, beliefs, and ethical codes, it quickly blurs the lines between what counts as cheating and what is just an emotional attachment.

This has also given rise to micro-cheating, which covers non-sexual acts of unfaithfulness. Using dating apps while being in a relationship or opening up to a member of the opposite sex, more than you usually share with your partner, are examples. These tools and concepts did not exist back then – making it nearly impossible for older generations to engage in micro or virtual cheating.

Jeff Dew, co-author of the study, points out people born in younger generations 'grew up online' and have become habituated to building and maintaining their relationships online. Other factors like glorified sexual activities in the media and acceptance of the transactional nature of sex have made it easier and more 'normal' for the younger generation to cheat.

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