I’ve been visiting my mom in the small Wisconsin town where she lives and I grew up, and every Sunday morning, she and her cronies head over to the coffee shop for breakfast. I have fun listening to them talk about people I don’t know—and people I’ve known forever. Because the coffee shop is the only game in town and lots of people go there on Sunday, sometimes you can see or meet the people you’re
gossiping about discussing, which can be both illuminating and embarrassing.
Last Sunday they were talking about a local bar/restaurant establishment that serves dinner four nights a week. They discussed the food, prices, hours, décor, and handicapped access. Then they got down to the serious stuff.
“Are Bob and Sue married?” someone asked. Bob was in my high school class, and I said I thought he and Sue had never married, although they’ve been together for decades.
I was corrected. Nope, Bob and Sue are married. They’d had some problems—Bob had been cheating—but when Sue threatened to leave, Bob realized how the business would fail without her. She was the chef, the decorator, and the accountant. Who could he get to replace her at the wages he was paying? Even assuming he got to keep the business at all. So he stopped cheating. At least according to the scuttlebutt.
Really, I thought. That works? Just threaten to leave, and the problems iron out?
I’m always interested in
gossip real-life stories, because while I don’t want to copy any actual lives into my fiction, my characters are definitely informed by the behavior and thoughts of people I know. And it turns out that Bob and Sue’s story is pretty common.
Research on infidelity among young married Americans shows that husbands who contribute 70 percent of the household income are the least likely to cheat on their wives. But the more economically dependent a husband becomes on his wife—the smaller percentage of income he contributes—the odds of him having an affair increase significantly.
That ties in to Bob and Sue, because as co-owners of their business, each probably contributes 50/50—at least theoretically. Some in town might say that Sue contributes 60 to Bob’s 40. So Bob’s less-than-70-percent of financial contribution makes him likely to cheat.
“For both (young) men and women, economic dependency is associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in infidelity,” writes University of Connecticut sociologist Christin Munsch, adding that this dynamic is far stronger among men. Women who are the primary breadwinners are less likely to cheat than women who depend on their husband’s income.
Munsch suggests that higher-earning women don’t cheat because they know the income disparity already strains the marriage, and they don’t want to add the extra strain of infidelity.
“As the range of acceptable roles and responsibilities [for men and women] continues to expand, men may become more comfortable with economic dependence,” Munsch writes, and so feel less need to establish independence and/or masculinity by cheating on their wives.
And how are Bob and Sue doing now?
“Good,” said my breakfast companions. “Now, if they’d just open for lunch.”