The more economically dependent one becomes on their spouse the more likely they are to cheat, and this is true for both men and women.
A recent study determined in an average year, there is about a 5 percent chance that an economically dependent woman will be unfaithful and a 15 percent chance for dependent men, the American Sociological Association reported.
"You would think that people would not want to 'bite the hand that feeds them' so to speak, but that is not what my research shows," said study author Christin L. Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. "Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don't like to feel dependent on another person."
The researchers believe stigmas associated with men not being the primary breadwinners are what make them more likely to cheat than women under these conditions.
"Extramarital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat -- that is not being primary breadwinners, as is culturally expected -- to engage in behavior culturally associated with masculinity," Munsch said. "For men, especially young men, the dominant definition of masculinity is scripted in terms of sexual virility and conquest, particularly with respect to multiple sex partners. Thus, engaging in infidelity may be a way of reestablishing threatened masculinity. Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their higher earning spouses."
The study pinpointed key differences in the way men and women behave when not the primary breadwinners in the marriage. The more money a woman makes in a marriage, the less likely she is to cheat.
"Previous research finds that women who are primary breadwinners are acutely aware of the ways in which they deviate from the cultural expectation that equates men with breadwinning. Consequently, previous research finds these women suffer from increased anxiety and insomnia and engage in what sociologists call 'deviance neutralization behaviors,'" Munsch said.
For example, women who are the primary breadwinners in their families tend to try to m inimize their achievements and exhibit behavior such as increasing housework. This is usually a tactic to decrease interpersonal conflict and boost their husband's masculinity.
Men's odds of committing adultery decrease significantly if their contribution to the pooled income is at 70 percent, but a higher income contribution than 70 percent is also associated with a higher likelihood of infidelity.
"These men are aware that their wives are truly dependent and may think that, as a result, their wives will not leave them even if they cheat," Munsch said. "They also might be cheating in search of a partner who will contribute more economically to the relationship. A husband who earns significantly more than his wife and has an affair -- think celebrities, athletes, and politicians -- is the type of infidelity that regularly makes front-page news, so I wasn't surprised to find that men who make a lot more than their wives are more likely to cheat than men in equal-earning relationships or relationships where they make a little bit more than their wives."
The findings were published in a recent edition of the American Sociological Review.