Infidelity Rises When She Makes More Than He Does

A new study finds that men are more likely to cheat if their income is much lower than what their wife or female partner makes, while women are more likely to fool around if they make more than their husband or male partner. The findings suggest that disparities in moneymaking play a significant role in infidelity, at least among the young couples they studied. Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News (don’t miss Barb’s comments below):

Study author Christin Munsch said, “… for men, the less money you make relative to your spouse, the more likely you are to engage in infidelity.”

Munsch, a graduate student at Cornell University, said she came up with the idea of studying the effects of income on infidelity after hearing from a friend who has cheated on his partner. He told Munsch that “she made all the money, she had all the friends, and he’d moved up there to be with her. He felt completely powerless.”

While there’s been previous research into infidelity, it didn’t look into differences in income among couples, Munsch said.

So she examined the results of a national survey that tracked 9,000 people beginning in 1997 when they were children. She focused on the results of the survey from 2001-2007, when the participants were between 17 and 27 years old.

The findings were released at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Atlanta.

Two lifestyle factors, higher education and regular religious observance, seem to help keep infidelity at bay for both men and women, the study found.

But factors having to do with money – such as the man making more or less than his wife or female partner – did increase the risk of infidelity, Munsch said.

If you’re a woman and “you make more money than your partner, your partner isn’t 100 percent likely to cheat,” she stressed. Still, money appeared to be a significant factor.

Men who make less than their wives may lean toward infidelity because they feel a “gender identity threat,” Munsch speculated.

His Brain, Her Brain

Walt: This study is just one of a number of recent studies showing that when a wife makes more money than her husband, the marriage is much more likely to have future difficulties.
Barb: In the movie Up in the Air, two women are discussing marriage. The mature woman says, “Please, let him earn more money than I do. You might not understand that now, but believe me, you will one day. Otherwise, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Walt: A 2009 German study concluded the problems caused by a woman earning more money than her husband are no longer up for debate. They’re rooted in fact. In a study of German couples, researchers found that marriages featuring a wife as the chief breadwinner have a “substantially higher risk of divorce” than if the roles were reversed.
Barb: In contrast, the study found, “if the husband earns more than the wife, marital stability is even enhanced.”
Walt: A 2010 study in the U.S. found couples are nearly 40 percent more likely to divorce in any given year in marriages where the wife makes at least 60 percent of the family income. And that is regardless of how much total money the couple has.
Barb: Psychologist Willard Harley, PhD writes, “If (married women) choose a career, the money they earn should not have to be spent on basic support of the family. … I’ve been amazed by the number of women who feel much better toward their husbands when his income actually goes to pay for her needs and those of her children.”
Walt: In our book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage, we looked at a number of these studies and wrote, “… when a woman wants a career, she and her husband need to consider together whether or not to use the money she earns for basic living expenses.”
Barb: Why? A woman usually needs and wants her husband to earn the money for their basic necessities, and he is designed to do this. Most wives (including those with careers) not only expect their husbands to work, they also expect them to earn enough to provide for their families. When a husband can’t, or doesn’t choose to, provide the basics for his family, it often leads to conflict in the marriage.
Walt: Simply put, a husband who does not provide sufficient income for his family’s basic needs – housing, clothing, food, transportation, and other essential – has the probability of causing increased marital distress. When a married couple faces the situation in which the wife has a professional career with a salary that allows her to provide the majority of the family income (and some or all of the basic family needs), the couple needs to recognize the potential danger their marriage faces.
Barb: In this case, we recommend the couple pray about this and discuss with a professional or pastoral counselor. They need to consider the potential risks, benefits, and consequences to their marriage and their relationship.

My wife, Barb, and I co-wrote a book called His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage, so I’ve asked her to join me in commenting on this topic:

Walt: This study is just one of a number of recent studies showing that when a wife makes more money than her husband, the marriage is much more likely to have future difficulties.

Barb: In the movie Up in the Air, two women are discussing marriage. The mature woman says, “Please, let him earn more money than I do. You might not understand that now, but believe me, you will one day. Otherwise, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Walt: A 2009 German study concluded the problems caused by a woman earning more money than her husband are no longer up for debate. They’re rooted in fact. In a study of German couples, researchers found that marriages featuring a wife as the chief breadwinner have a “substantially higher risk of divorce” than if the roles were reversed.

Barb: In contrast, the study found, “if the husband earns more than the wife, marital stability is even enhanced.”

Walt: A 2010 study in the U.S. found couples are nearly 40 percent more likely to divorce in any given year in marriages where the wife makes at least 60 percent of the family income. And that is regardless of how much total money the couple has.

Barb: Psychologist Willard Harley, PhD writes, “If (married women) choose a career, the money they earn should not have to be spent on basic support of the family. … I’ve been amazed by the number of women who feel much better toward their husbands when his income actually goes to pay for her needs and those of her children.”

Walt: In our book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage, we looked at a number of these studies and wrote, “… when a woman wants a career, she and her husband need to consider together whether or not to use the money she earns for basic living expenses.”

Barb: Why? A woman usually needs and wants her husband to earn the money for their basic necessities, and he is designed to do this. Most wives (including those with careers) not only expect their husbands to work, they also expect them to earn enough to provide for their families. When a husband can’t, or doesn’t choose to, provide the basics for his family, it often leads to conflict in the marriage.

Walt: Simply put, a husband who does not provide sufficient income for his family’s basic needs – housing, clothing, food, transportation, and other essential – has the probability of causing increased marital distress. When a married couple faces the situation in which the wife has a professional career with a salary that allows her to provide the majority of the family income (and some or all of the basic family needs), the couple needs to recognize the potential danger their marriage faces.

Barb: In this case, we recommend the couple pray about this and discuss with a professional or pastoral counselor. They need to consider the potential risks, benefits, and consequences to their marriage and their relationship,

As to our book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage
  • You can order a copy, signed by each of us, here.
  • You can read the Table of Contents here.
  • You can read the First Chapter here.

4 thoughts on “Infidelity Rises When She Makes More Than He Does

  • My and Barb’s response and the original article raised quite a response on the CMDA Web site. First, here’s an introduction to the responses by CMDA CEO David Stevens, MD:

    “If you didn’t read last week’s News & Views article entitled “Infidelity Rises When She Makes More than He Does” and the commentary that followed it by Dr. Walt and Barb Larimore, you should click here (http://www.cmda.org/wcm/CMDA/ResourcesServices2/e_Newsletters1/News_and_Views/This_Week_s_News_Vie.aspx) and review it before reading on. That will put the letters from readers and my comments into context.

    “I should begin by noting that comments and articles in News & Views do not necessarily represent the position of CMDA. Official CMDA positions are developed via a long and detailed process involving the Ethics Committee, the Board of Trustees and the House of Representatives. They are thus limited to moral and ethical issues where the Bible has something to say. Even those positions are not binding on CMDA members. Each member has only to be in agreement with our Statement of Faith.

    “Occasionally we put articles in News & Views to stimulate discussion. CMDA encourages vigorous debate within the boundaries of compassion for one another. As the Bible says in 1 Cor. 16:14 ‘Do everything in love.’ That constrains us to humbly show engage our brothers or sisters. (Matt. 18:15). I’ve learned that it is risky and less than loving to impute motives, make threats or to attack individuals when you disagree with them. Share your experience, use reason, invoke data and most of all, measure every opinion against what the Bible teaches.

    “Here are my personal thoughts on the article and commentary. The Bible does not say to men, ‘Don’t be unequally yoked with a wife who makes more money than you do.’ Scripture warns us against ‘yoking’ with unbelievers and it applies to more than marriage. (2 Cor. 6:14)

    “This study notes that those who are ‘regularly religious’ have less infidelity. Additionally, the number of people who have the supposed risk associated with income disparities are ‘very small numbers.’ The study does not look at the subset of those with income disparities who are also highly religious to see the outcomes.

    “A wife making significantly more income than her husband may also have greater job stress. That is often true in medicine. Does higher stress lead to a greater likelihood breakdown in communication, intimacy and time to keep the marriage strong? Does a higher income indicate more time away from home leading to more opportunities for infidelity? A higher income for the female spouse may be a marker, but I doubt it is the core reason for slightly increased risk of infidelity.

    “I do not agree with Psychologist Willard Harley’s, PhD assertion, ‘If (married women) choose a career, the money they earn should not have to be spent on basic support of the family.’ The Bible teaches that marriage means becoming ‘one’ (Gen2:24, Matt. 19:5 and Eph 5:31). Whether a Christian husband or wife makes more money does not give either the right to say, ‘This is my money and you have your money.’ It is ‘our money’ no matter who made most of it. The decisions on how to use should also be guided by Biblical principles.

    “Marriages involving physicians and dentists are statistically at higher risk for divorce and infidelity. That is one reason CMDA seeks to build strong marriages via our Marriage Enrichment Commission.

    “Okay, let’s hear what everyone others have said. Read on…”

  • Dear News & Views,
    I’m curious about why the “Infidelity Rises When She Makes More Than He Does” press release was chosen for News & Views.

    First, the excerpt from the press release describes an abstract, but the research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so I don’t have any way to look at the data. Review of the web link shows that this was work done by a graduate student who looked at data from a longitudinal study on children. She looked at participants who were 17-27 over a recent 5-year period, presumably many or most of whom were not married. Of those teenagers and young adults, she found infidelity rates of 7% among men and 3% among women over that 5-year period, which is remarkably low especially for teens and young adults. Rates were higher in couples where women earned more, higher in black and Hispanic men than white men and lower in those with higher education and regular religious observance. Without the data there’s no way to know how strong those correlations were.

    At any rate, that press release describes a study that doesn’t sound very generalizable to CMDA members. Interestingly, the commentary did not discuss infidelity being more than twice as common in men as in women, or racial disparities in infidelity. Instead, News & Views used that press release as a leap-off point to discuss “a number of recent studies showing that when a wife makes more money than her husband, the marriage is much more likely to have future difficulties.” As a Christian woman physician who is married, and who sometimes “makes more” than my husband, it was hard not to get defensive and feel that somehow the mere fact of my working and earning might put my marriage at risk. The Larimores’ commentary made that point several times when they used language like “if married women choose a career” or “when a woman wants a career” which seemed to minimize the possibility that God has called and uniquely gifted many women to serve Him and our patients as doctors and dentists, while also calling us to be wives and sometimes mothers. It’s possible that another consequence of that call is that our marriages will be challenged in a variety of ways, but I think that’s true for physician and dentist marriages in general, as my husband and I found when we served on CMDA’s Marriage Commission.

    Within CMDA’s Women in Medicine & Dentistry (WIMD) ministry, which serves 40% of the CMDA membership, we see a wide variety of models of medicine and ministry, among single women, married women, some with children, some without. There are great models for younger women medical and dental students to see the wide range of marriage styles and ways that God uses to accomplish His work. We have “traditional” marriages where he’s the primary breadwinner and she’s a physician but also the primary parent, to “egalitarian” marriages like mine where both are full-time physicians and both are very active parents, to “reverse traditional” marriages where she’s the primary breadwinner and he’s a stay-at-home dad. These aren’t just “choices;” they reflect God’s calls which are unique to each family and change over time and with different new challenges.

    We do find that there are some unique issues for marriages with women physicians and dentists, and some unique issues for marriages where women earn more than their husbands or are the primary breadwinners. One is that often those marriages, and those women, are criticized by Christians who don’t appreciate the calling that God has placed on these families, or the ways he may have gifted those wives and husbands to care for each other, their children, and also do the work He’s called them to do. Another is that these couples may feel isolated and unusual, especially if the most common model in their churches is a traditional one. Sometimes it’s painful to be a Christian woman physician, with the strong sense that Christians around you question your call and your response. And when there are problems in our marriages, it’s easy for others to blame us since we’ve “chosen” to have a career, so women physicians may feel they have to hide their struggles from friends at church. This is one reason why our annual WIMD conferences are so valuable, to provide a safe place where women physicians (and their husbands) can come, meet others in similar situations, and be encouraged and supported. It’s also why at most CMDA Marriage Enrichment Weekends, one small group will be made up of the couples with woman physicians/dentists, and why we are looking forward to the first WIMD/Marriage Enrichment Weekend for couples where all the wives are physicians, dentists, or medical/dental students (in March 2011).

    As more and more women enter medicine and dentistry, this will be an increasingly common model. Issues of income disparity when wives make more than men often reveal much about both husbands and wives’ desires, hopes, expectations and sinful natures. Many of these issues are also revealed in traditional marriages and egalitarian marriages. Either way, God can use marriage to challenge us, change us and hopefully make us more like Him. The solution to the “problem” of income disparity, or infidelity for that matter, is not for women to stop having careers. It’s not to make sure they never earn more than their husbands, or to force men into breadwinner roles only because they are men, when God may have called them to something else or when they may be disabled. The solution occurs in the hearts of men and women who learn to love and serve sacrificially.

    And for the future, I would ask that if News & Views wants to highlight current research, that it use peer-reviewed journal articles, not press releases. And if the issues are potentially divisive or pointed to a particular group, please consider having two or more commentaries from CMDA members who have different views to facilitate dialogue in areas where CMDA has diversity of opinions. Thanks for your consideration.

    Sincerely,
    Leslie Walker, MD

  • Dear CMDA: I really did not like that article on women making more money than men and fidelity issues. That is an insult to me as a woman physician. First of all we go into just as much debt as our male colleagues in medical school and the only way to pay that back is by an adequate salary in the first 15-20 years after graduation (marry me, marry my debt). The last person most female physicians want to marry is another physician, so statistically she will make more than her husband (even if she works part time). Especially if she accrued her debt as a single woman, it is important that she not burden her spouse with the obligation of paying off school debt. In the nearly 14 wonderful years I have been married I have always made more than my husband and for most of that time have also carried the health insurance for the family. Making more money than my husband is a fact of life for our family, especially since he is in the computer field and has been laid off three times in ten of those years together. I don’t feel like less of a woman and he doesn’t feel like less of a man-we are both realists as far as the situation. If we used my salary for only “basic living expenses” while my husband is unemployed, we would have already filed for bankruptcy. Neither of us would trade each other for anyone else. When you love someone who complements you and completes you, the argument of who makes more is just ridiculous!!! I do not feel my marriage is in danger because I make more. If this is the attitude that CMDA is going to have about female physicians making more than their husbands I may have to rethink about renewing my membership. I believe CMDA owes all of its female members a BIG APOLOGY!!!!

    Mary P. Fabian, MD
    Editor’s Note: After Dr. Stevens communicated with Dr. Fabian she wrote the following: “I truly love all CMDA has done for me and would really regret to pull my membership.”

  • I find the article on female infidelity and income offensive and discouraging. In fact it makes me very angry. Why not for once show that a woman is also an equal child of God?

    Jennifer Peecher – student

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