Seniors Can’t Cheat Death, but They Can Cheat on Each Other

Sorry, but your parents might swing.

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Older adults are cheating on their spouses more and more, while younger couples are cheating less, annual data from the General Social Survey (GSS) reveals. Despite 30 years of data that shows three out of four Americans are agree that extramarital sex is wrong (the number of couples who report actually doing it usually hovers around 16 percent), those 55 and older are doing it anyways. And they’ve created an odd adultery age gap that the $3 billion erectile dysfunction drug market can’t be blamed for — well, at least entirely.

The GSS is a national sociological face-to-face survey conducted by the NORC at the University of Chicago every year since 1972, and every other year since 1994. As of 2014, 30 national samples with 59,599 respondents and more than 5,900 variables have been collected through the GSS. The question “Have you ever had sex with someone other than your husband or wife while you were married?” has been asked since 1991.

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When the Institute for Family Studies further distilled the GSS data, they found the growing adultery age gap has been steadily increasing to a statistically significant level. Results reveal that in 2016, 20 percent of older respondents owned up to some form of cheating, whereas only 14 percent of people under the age of 55 said the same. Additional analysis indicated that extramarital affairs occurred in couples that had been married for 20 to 30 years and the age gap could not be explained by sociodemographic differences such as sex, age, race/ethnicity, or education. The rate of extramarital declines again when people hit their seventies, because come on.

While the data does little to say why older people are cheating, it might have something to do with generational differences, as adults born between 1940 and 1959 reported the highest rates of extramarital sex. They were the first generation to grow up during the sexual revolution, and their kids rebelled against their parent by reverting back to monogamy.

Still, the gap between those who are currently married and those who’ve ever been married (meaning divorced and remarried, or just divorced) was the highest in people in their 50s and 60s, which suggests a greater dissolution of marriage. So it could be that people who’ve been married for more than 20 years are more likely to cheat simply because they’ve been married for more than 20 years, which would explain the rise in “gray divorce” among the middle-aged. This is likely a combination of being raised on free love, married for a very long time, and one of the first generations to have access to erectile dysfunction drugs, the market for which is estimated to be worth $3.4 billion in 2019.

With any survey concerning sex, lies, and self-reporting, there are clear caveats to consider. It’s entirely possible that both older and younger couples underreported incidences of adultery, but it’s highly unlikely that older people overreported. No one pretends to have an affair (save for those rare psychopaths aren’t statistically significant). Another issue is that the way the survey item is phrased, it doesn’t separate people in consensual polyamorous from the pack of cheaters. Perhaps a good portion of people 55 and older who reported extramarital sex were in open marriages. It’s estimated that there are approximately 9.8 million people in nonmonogamous relationships, which could further muddle the results.

In lieu of more specific data, the GSS implies that older people are getting laid, albeit outside of their marriage. Combined with recent research that says younger people are having less sex (because iPhones are awesome), this could mean that Father Time could be a good wingman. Too bad his skills are not great for modern marriages.

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