With millennials considering marriage later in life than earlier generations, it’s no surprise that women’s perspective on marriage is changing. But “State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity,” a new book by Esther Perel, has us questioning whether women’s view of marriage is changing for better or for worse.
In her book, Perel reveals that the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40 percent, while the rate among men has remained stagnant. Today’s women are cheating — or willing to admit they’re cheating — more than ever before. Perel acknowledges that there are many factors affecting this statistic, but one of the most shocking? The “second shift,” a.k.a the greater share of household work they consistently have to take care of.
"I think there's an incredible amount of deep resentment for women in America about divisions of labor," sociologist Lisa Wade told CNN. "What social scientists are finding now is that there is a correlation between equal division of labor and better sex."
Recent research published in Springer’s journal “Sex Roles” confirms that women still do more housework than their male partners. The division of housework responsibilities remains consistent throughout all stages of life, which results on an unfair burden of women.
“It can feel like my husband and I are running a family corporation together and that our emotional intimacy consists of gossiping about our friends and watching ‘Game of Thrones,’” an anonymous source said to CNN. “Sometimes I wonder if when the kids leave I should either (a) have a passionate affair or (b) find another husband. I may do neither, but it seems like (a) is more likely than (b).”
“We now tell women that they can have it all, that they can work and have a family and deserve to be sexually satisfied,” Wade explained. “Then when having it all is miserable and overwhelming or they realize marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, maybe having affairs is the new plan B.”
Both Perel and Wade suggest that the disproportion burden of housework negatively affects marriages. This “second shift” leads women to seek fulfillment outside of their current roles and relationships.
“A lot of women have tried to address these problems and have faced a lot of stubbornness from husbands,” Wade said. “They feel there’s no way to win this battle.”
The second shift also negatively affects women’s desire to pursue leadership roles and professional opportunities. According to the 2016 Women in the Workplace study, only 34 percent of women who perform a majority of housework and child care aspire to become top executives. In addition, women who currently hold senior management roles are seven times more likely than male senior managers to say they do more than half the housework.
“These women seem to be finding that no amount of sensitivity or goodwill on the part of their husbands can save them from the fact that in every arena, from work to marriage to parenthood, they’re always doing more for less,” Kim Brooks wrote for CNN. “They felt they consistently did a disproportionate amount of the invisible labor that went into maintaining their lifestyle… little does as much to muffle erotic desire as this kind of caretaking.”
“State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” suggests that women are expected to “keep the pulse” of their communities, both at work and at home. While this certainly adds to the stress of being a working professional, the rise in infidelity amongst women suggests a subversion of traditional gender roles. Combined with the recent decrease in the gender wage gap, one can view this research as a sign that we are getting closer to gender parity at work.
“It’s such a precarious balance,” Wade said. “These kind of cultural beliefs hang on a long time… in ways that are often invisible.”