Extra-marital sex among over-55s is increasing, finds study

A generational gap is emerging

Rachel Hosie@rachel_hosie
Thursday 06 July 2017 09:10

Extra-marital sex is on the up.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking the younger generations, what with their swiping and their apps and their commitment issues, are the ones driving this. But you’d be wrong.

A new study has found that older people are cheating on their husbands and wives much more than their younger counterparts.

According to the research published by the Institute for Family Studies, 20 per cent of married Americans aged over 55 admit to extra-marital sex, compared to just 14 per cent of those under 55.

It’s easy to assume that this is simply because older people are likely to have been married longer and have thus had more time to cheat - the majority were married between 20 and 30 years - but the study reveals that instances of adultery in older marriages has soared since 2000.

At the same time, the rate of extra-marital sex amongst 18-55 year-old married couples has declined, showing a divergence.

The research, entitled “America’s New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex”, was led by Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor in the University of Utah's Department of Family and Consumer Studies.

It is based on analysis of data from the General Social Survey.

It’s possible to presume that those aged over the age of 55 could be suffering from lacklustre lengthy marriages or mid-life crises, but that’s nothing new.

In fact, Wolfinger believes the change reflects the generation - he points out that the over-55s grew up in the time of the sexual revolution.

(General Social Survey

It’s important to note, however, that the research was on extra-marital sex in particular, not just adultery within relationships.

There’s also the possibility that the findings reflect a rise in polyamory or “ethical non-monogamy” ie. having sex with other people with your partner’s consent.

The majority of people still disapprove of extra-marital sex - overall the rate has remained constant at around 16 per cent of people cheating on their spouses over the last 30 years - but attitudes are relaxing.

“No matter how many polyamorists there are today, old-fashioned adultery seems to have risen among older Americans,” Wolfinger says.

He thinks the rise of mid-life adultery could be linked to an increase in divorce amongst older people:

“Even as overall divorce rates have fallen in recent decades, there has been a startling surge in ‘grey divorce’ among the middle-aged. Part of that story seems to be a corresponding increase in mid-life adultery, which seems to be both the cause and the consequence of a failing marriage.

“The declining rates of extra-marital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage. But the seeds sown by the sexual revolution continue to bear unanticipated fruit among older Americans.”

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