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Tolerance of Extramarital Sex by Sex
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Are Empowered Women Driving Reduced Tolerance Of Extramarital Affairs?:

My girlfriend’s theory about this, which makes sense to me, is that as women’s labor market opportunities have improved their dependency on husbands for economic security has declined and, in turn, their willingness to put up with misbehavior has gone down. Looking at a gender breakdown of responses might shed some light on this, but I can’t figure out how to work the General Social Survey website.

He’s talking about a chart which shows decline in tolerance of extramarital sex by education:

I just replicated but broke it down by male and female:

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Data Analysis, GSS 
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  1. So more educated people are more likely to accept extramarital sex, at least under some circumstances? Hm. Are they more likely to see shades of grey in situations? Are they just less religious (and by proxy less dogmatic about marriage)? Maybe they’re more likely to be polyamorous. I don’t know.

    Either way, this actually goes against the empowerment idea.

  2. The data is pretty noisy, but there seems to be a larger increase over time for more educated women not accepting extramarital sex than for less-educated women, though the less-educated started from a higher starting point. The trend upwards for men seems to be more uniform across education levels.

    Stretching the vertical scale would help see those trends, but they’re visible as plotted.

  3. There’s a trend, but who knows the reason? The seventies (the start point for your data) were a pretty libertine decade, when ideas like “swinging” and “open marriage” didn’t sound nearly as creepy as they do today. In some ways society has become a little more straight-laced (in some ways not).

    Is there any way to test his girlfriend’s economic hypothesis with GSS data? by, say, comparing the same cohorts before and after peak marriage age, or comparing wives earning much less than their husbands with wives who earn the same or more?

  4. Do your charts break down opinion according to whether the males or females are giving the opinion? Or whether the males or females are doing the extramarital sex?

  5. former. the title is true.

  6. @1

    It’s still entirely plausible that female financial independence, ceteris paribus, leads to lower female tolerance for husbands’ extra-marital affairs. The thing is, female financial independence and liberal attitudes toward sexuality both can be associated with higher education, thus canceling each other out. And I too suspect that more educated people are more averse to black and white, always and never type statements. Never say “never”… or “always” for that matter.

  7. I suspect this is the type of question that leads people to answer in one way even though their later actions say otherwise.

    More educated people may be less likely to say it is always wrong as they strive to be libertine in the social ideals; however, I wonder if the real-life gap between the educated and the non-educated really exists when faced with the same scenario.

    For example Mrs X. states that it isn’t always wrong- but when Mr X has an affair- she would quickly change her answer.

    Mrs Y states that it is always wrong- but when Mr Y has an affair she can’t bring her self to act upon it.

    A more telling survey would be- how education actually affects people affected by infidelity. What percent have had extramarital relations- and what their spouses actually did about it.

    Someone less educated (perhaps therefore less wealthy) may be more likely to say it is always wrong (because they’ve experienced it) – but at the same time be less likely to act on it because they can’t financially break away.

  8. Michelle writes:
    “So more educated people are more likely to accept extramarital sex, at least under some circumstances?”

    Whether they “accept” it or not seems irrelevant since they aren’t getting any anyway (if Razib’s reader survey is any indication.)

  9. “It’s still entirely plausible that female financial independence, ceteris paribus, leads to lower female tolerance for husbands’ extra-marital affairs. The thing is, female financial independence and liberal attitudes toward sexuality both can be associated with higher education, thus canceling each other out.”

    The notion that female financial independence flows from higher education is probably wrong as an empirical matter. College educated women who marry college educated men and have kids: (1) have husbands who are quite capable of being financial providers through higher incomes, reduced unemploymenet frequency, and the availability of professional benefits, (2) empirically see a dramatic reduction in their own earning capacity as a result of time out of the professional and managerial workforce. While college educated women who have taken a few years out of the workforce do make more money than those who just graduated from high school, and typically get better divorce settlements than less educated women too, the financial earning capacity is typically a lower percentage of their husband’s before divorcing (relative to high school couples with kids) and after the divorce ex-husbands see their after divorce payment financial income rise relative to half to the combined pre-divorce total while ex-wife finanicial earnings even including child support and maintance and investment earnings is typically much much less than half of the pre-divorce total.

    In contrast, a high school educated women who marries a high school educated men and has kids (1) have husbands with much lower incomes, much more common episodes of unemployment, fewer benefits, and less room for promotions, and (2) see little or no reduction in their earning capacity as a result of time out of the workforce, partially because they can’t afford to spend time out of the workforce and partially because they are in less skilled jobs with few premiums for skill or seniority. Divorce means a bump in financial means for ex-husbands and drop for ex-wives, but the magnitude of the bump is typically much more modest than in college educated couples

    As a result, the ratio of husband income to wife income is typically going to be higher in college educated families than the high school educted families. This, in turn, makes more educated women, on average more financially dependent than their less educated female peers.

    The “end game” analysis is also different and reinforces the relative income effects. College educated couples are less likely to divorce, particularly if they are finanically successful, than high school educated couples. And a college educted woman who returns to the “marriage market” is a much greater risk of “remarrying down” socioeconomically, given who is available and what they are starting from. A woman married to a high school educated man, in contrast, has a much better shot at remarrying someone with similar education and earning capacity and general desirability than their current husband – divorce high school men are more likely to have been dumped for finanical failure rather than for long term relationship unsuitability than college educated men (who tend to be better off financially so a larger share of college educated couple divorces should be driven by someone’s long term relationship unsuitability) so the divorced men with more high school educations are less likely to be unloveable jerks than divorced men with college educations. And a woman married to a high school educated man who divorces and remarries has a much greater potential to “marry up” than a college educated divorcee, because fewer women are worse and many men are better from an SES perspective. Since divorced women who have had children and have not remarried tend to experience dramatic declines in SES across the board, and most divorced women remarry within five years or less, the “end game” also matters a lot to a rational person considering divorce.

    Fidelity matters more when the economic binds that keep a marriage together are tenuous than when economic considerations swamp everything else. In the long run this influences ideology and produces the GSS results. It also explains why divorce rates are much higher for high school educated couples than for college educated couples and why marriage rates are higher in college educated couples than in high school (or less) educated couples.

    The economic reason to marry is to get a claim in the event of divorce on family property and a claim to alimony. In high school educated couples, there is little property to divide and it is produced fairly equally be both members of the couple since there aren’t huge wage gaps in low skilled jobs and both members of the couple usually have to work soon after children are born out of necessity. Also, child support and alimony are likely to be modest since the husband can’t afford to pay much and will often have periods of unemployment (particular in the economic bad times the put strains on marriages). A security deposit on an apartment and garnishment from an assistant manager job at Burger Palace that isn’t likely to last more than a year or two to be replaced with some new job isn’t worth much, probably not worth the cost of hiring a lawyer to get divorced. These marriages, also, will on average have been shorter.

    But, in college educated couples, it is much more likely that couples with kids have bargained for the wife to sacrifice career potential and rely on husband’s earnings on a day to day basis, it is more likely that they have had a longer marriage, and it is much more likely that there will be any property of consequence to divide. There will be a house and decent cars and retirement plans and mutual funds and a college educated husband has far less economic freedom to walk away from his job so garnishment to college child support and alimony is more effective. Divorce payouts are still far less than the economic benefit received from being married in most cases (causing people to tend to remarry rapidly if they can in most cases), but they are definitely worth having a right to and hiring a lawyer to get in a typical college educated couple with kids who have been married as long as the median divorce couple with that level of education.

    This economic analysis is robust across many cultures from Sweden to Japan to the U.S. and across ethnic lines. One way to understand the very high African-American divorce rate is that black men have far less attractive financial capacity, on average, in part due to factors like war on drugs/gang/poverty driven crime and a culture of incarceration relative to black women whose less intense run ints with the criminal justice and more compliant conduct within the educational system disciplinary system (serious crime is male dominanted in all racial categories) makes them less likely to have critical taints like criminal records and more likely on average to have higher levels of education than the average black man. So, the middle class marriage model that assumes that a woman married a man, has kids and takes some time off to raise them, and makes career sacrifices that advance the couples economic prospects by maximizing the man’s earnings simply makes no sense.

    There are some assumptions buried in this analysis, like the female driven locus of most divorce decisions, but it is quite a good explanatory heuristic that fits the empirical data well, so the assumptions in it (also supported by direct evidence about who makes these decisions) may be pretty accurate.

  10. Awesome.

    So why is such a high % of black women opposed to mixed marriages?

  11. ohwilleke writes:
    “serious crime is male dominanted in all racial categories”

    Thanks for pointing that out for us.

  12. Andrew, I mean, is that the reason – because the economic model just doesn’t make sense?

  13. @11

    Not sure if trolling, joking, or serious, but almost definitely because American male demand for black women is weaker compared to the demand for West Eurasian or East Asian women, just like I would guess East Asian men are more averse to mixed marriages because female demand for East Asian men is weaker. In addition, women are more insistent on dating someone of the same background than are men.

  14. Whenever I see a time series involving college graduates, I guess that they as their population expands, they become more like the general population. That turns out not to be the explanation – the general population shifted to “always wrong.” In general, it seems to me worth graphing the aggregate data whenever one graphs demographic breakdowns, especially if the demographics are changing.

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