The older you are, the more likely you are to cheat, a new study by the Institute for Family Studies says.
According to researchers, adults over the age of 55 are cheating on their partners at a higher rate compared to younger married couples under 55.
In fact, the study, which looked at data from the General Social Survey in the U.S., found that 20 per cent of married people over the age of 55 have engaged in extramarital sex, while only 14 per cent of couples under 55 are said to have cheated. Those in their 50s and 60s, however, were the most likely to cheat.
While the number of couples who have had extramarital affairs has held steady over the years, this is the first time researchers have experienced such a “startling age-related difference,” the study says.
Nichole Wolfinger, lead author of the study from the University of Utah, believes there may be a few reasons as to why this age gap exists.
First, he notes, many couples in their 50s and 60s got married at between 20 and 30 years of age, so lengthy marriages and midlife crises may play a role in the behaviour.
Second, Wolfinger says, is that older adults also came of age during the sexual revolution. Because of that, people of this older generation tend to have had more sex partners compared to their younger counterparts.
It also looks as if attitudes have softened when it comes to extramarital sex, despite the majority of people who disapprove of the act.
It’s important to note, however, that the respondents were asked about extramarital sex, not explicitly adultery, Wolfinger says. So this may raise the possibility that the data reflects a “rising participation in polyamory or ‘ethical non-monogamy,’ extramarital relationships conducted with the active permission of one’s spouse.”
Despite that, however, Wolfinger says adultery seems to have risen among older Americans.
“Even as overall divorce rates have fallen in recent decades, there has been a startling surge in ‘grey divorce’ among the middle-aged,” Wolfinger said in a statement. “Part of that story seems to be a corresponding increase in midlife adultery, which seems to be both the cause and the consequence of a failing marriage. The declining rates of extramarital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage,” he said. “But the seeds sown by the sexual revolution continue to bear unanticipated fruit among older Americans.”
Relationship expert Shannon Tebb isn’t surprised by the study’s results.
While Tebb believes midlife crisis plays a big part in the equation, there are other factors that may influence anyone from any age to cheat.
“[People who cheat] may want to boost their ego and feel attractive or wanted by a younger male or female,” Tebb explains. “Sometimes the needs aren’t being met in the relationship and they’re feeling emotionally dissatisfied. Sometimes partners are going through a midlife crisis – so it’s usually the person’s own insecurities that make them cheat.”
Cheating, Tebb says, engaging in adultery is not all about sex. Both men and women need that emotional relationship, and if they’re not feeling that they’re being supported and appreciated, then that can lead to straying and seeking that attention elsewhere.
So if the urge to cheat is there, Tebb advises would-be cheaters to assess the situation and figure out if what they’re thinking about doing is worth giving up what they have with their current partner.
“Once you feeling you’re leaning out of your marriage and going to other people then you need to sit back and self-reflect,” she says. “Sit down with your partner and be honest with them.”
Make suggestions on how you as a couple can fix the problem, for example, couple’s therapy.
If the cheating has already occurred, then the damage may be harder to repair, she said.
“You have to gain their trust again in order to move forward,” Tebb says.
In the end, Tebb adds, if the trust isn’t regained then it might be the end of the relationship.