American women, who trail men when it comes to making money, leading companies and accumulating wealth, are closing the gap on at least one measure: cheating on their spouses.
The percentage of wives having affairs rose almost 40 percent during the last two decades to 14.7 percent in 2010, while the number of men admitting to extramarital affairs held constant at 21 percent, according to the latest data from the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey.
The narrowing gap, reported by a sociologist at Auburn University at Montgomery, reflects multiple trends. Wives with their own jobs have less to lose economically from a divorce, and social media have made it easier to engage in affairs.
"Men are still more likely to cheat than women," said Yanyi Djamba, director of the AUM Center for Demographic Research. "But the gender gap is closing."
Blacks, executives and managers, and Southerners were most likely to report extramarital affairs to the 40-year-old survey, the oldest continuous source of data on American behavior.
The main impetus behind extramarital affairs was predictable, Djamba said: One in four men described their marriages as "not very happy," more than twice the number of wives who rationalized their adultery that way.
The survey results lend support to one researcher's argument that what's been presumed about female sexuality for centuries may be wrong. Daniel Bergner, the author of the newly published book "What Do Women Want?," said cultural expectations have prevented women from having more affairs.
"Women are programmed to seek out one good man, and men never have been really well-suited to monogamy, right?" Bergner said in a telephone interview. An increasing body of science suggests that women's sex drives are as powerful as men's libidos, Bergner said, though they've been repressed by thousands of years of male-dominated culture.