Marriages that End in Divorce After an Affair - Statistics

That the rate of divorce has shot up in recent times is only too apparent given the evidence of breaking marriages all around. Even though US government statistics1 put it at a rather conservative estimate of 3.6 divorces per thousand populations, so much is without doubt that marriages breaking up are more common now than ever in America. And one of the most common reasons for divorces is extra marital affairs. To what extent an affair contributes to marital estrangements is made clear by the following statistics.

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Mutual love and trust are the foundation for all marriages in a monogamous society. When a partner indulges in an extramarital affair, the action strikes at the very heart of a marriage which is often unable to cope with the emotional and practical consequences and heads towards divorce. L Betzig,  a researcher on anthropology wrote a paper titled "Causes of conjugal dissolution: A cross-cultural study" in 19892 in which he found that infidelity occurred as the single most cited cause of divorce in over 150 cultures and the US is no different. According to a statistics gleaned from 2004, the highest percentage of divorces - as much as 27% - in the US are caused by extramarital affairs with family strains and then marital abuse coming at the second - 18% - and third - 17% - most common reasons for divorce respectively. In yet another study3, more than 25 percent of the women said that their husbands' unfaithfulness was a factor in their divorce. Less than half as many men – around 10.5 percent - said it was their wives' infidelity which was a cause of their divorce. In fact, at 11.6 percent, more men said that their wives' in-laws were a reason for the divorce than said it was because their wives had had an affair.

An interesting fact about extramarital affair and divorce is that the divorced spouse rarely marries the paramour who caused the marriage breakup and even when he/she does, the resulting marriage is far from a happy one. For example, Dr. Jan Halper’s study of successful men like executives, entrepreneurs, professionals found that very few men who have affairs divorce their wife and marry their lovers. Only 3 percent of the 4,100 successful men surveyed by Halper eventually married their lovers. Another study carried out by Frank Pittman found that the divorce rate among those who married their lovers was as high as 75 percent. The reasons for the high divorce rate include intervention of reality, guilt at breaking up a marriage, unrealistic expectations from the new marriage, a general distrust of marriage and a distrust of the new spouse.

Yet another emerging trend in case of divorces caused by extramarital affairs is the role of internet in general as well as social networking and dating sites in particular. The internet has added a new dimension to extramarital affairs in recent times. The anonymity and easy availability of online dating now results in many more spouses looking for love outside marriage. The plethora of general dating sites and even those dedicated to relationships on the side like Ashley Madison is proof enough that to online affairs are on the rise. One consequence of this is that one-third of divorce litigation is now caused by online affairs, according to a study titled This Is An Internet E-Mergency and conducted by the Fortino Group.
According to a survey of 350 divorce attorneys, partners who get hooked on Internet porn are a growing complaint among spouses filing for divorce. "If there's dissatisfaction in the existing relationship, the Internet is an easy way for people to scratch the itch," said lawyer J. Lindsey Short, Jr., president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers which conducted the study. Results of the study also found that 57% of people have used the Internet to flirt and that there is a high correlation between online infidelity and subsequent real life affairs.

Divorce statistics delineated by age too throws up some interesting facts – apparently the younger the age of marriage, the higher the probability of it ending in a divorce. In America states like Arkansas and Oklahoma where men and women marry young - half of first-time brides in these states were age 24 or younger on their wedding day - the shares of women who divorced in 2007-2008, tended to be above the average rate, according to a study by the Pew Research Organization and based on the American Community Survey taken through 20084. On the other hand, states like Massachusetts and New York threw up an opposite picture. While their residents married late – half of ever-married New York men were older than age 30 when they first wed – they also had below-average shares of men and women who divorced in 2007-2008. In fact Betsey Stevenson of the Wharton school at Pennsylvania University even devised a “marriage calculator” in 2009 to predict the likelihood of a divorce. “The lowest divorce rates are among people who marry late with more education; the highest ones are among those who marry young with less education," says the economist5.

While lack of financial stability and emotional maturity are the prime causes of broken marriages among young couples, another common cause is infidelity. Such spouses are more likely to stray into an affair since they have not yet fully explored the gamut of romantic relationships and dating. Settling down early leaves them with little opportunity to develop adult relationships and later as married partners they find themselves drawn to experiencing other kids of relationships. Unfortunately divorce at an early age can have long ranging consequences - along with leaving the emotional scars, economic effects are also devastating, especially for young mothers, so much so that social scientists and demographers fear that an entire new impoverished subclass has emerged.


Centre for Disease Control and Education - National Marriage and Divorce Rate Trends

Current Anthropology 30(5): 654-676.

Margaret Guminski Cleek and T. Allan Pearson, "Perceived Causes of Divorce: An Analysis of Interrelationships," Journal of Marriage and the Family (February 1985) p. 179, 181.

PewResearchCenter Publications - The States of Marriage and Divorce

The Guardian - US study says divorce is linked to age and education