Is your man cheating? Blame it on a dismal economy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A bad economy could mean men want sex with more partners

When the economy gets tough, researchers say men get going – sexually, that is. The theory is that men are biologically driven to engage in short-term mating strategies for survival when their environment is threatened.

In other words, a dismal economy that shows no immediate signs of recovery may drive men to have sex with more partners in order to spread their genes.

Grim economy could make men want to reproduce more

Omri Gillath, a social psychology professor at the University of Kansas says when a man’s basic needs are met, he is more likely to focus on family and remain monogamous. But when the economy falters, men have an innate drive to have sex with more partners.

"When the environment is secure and you have enough food and things are working the way you would like them to, people are more likely to invest in their existing kids and stay with their current partner or prefer long-term mating strategies," said Gillath. "But if the environment is dangerous and your chances of survival are low — if there is a famine or more enemies— then people will adopt short-term strategies which allow them to reproduce more."

The researchers looked at a combination of men’s behavior and psychological studies to reach their conclusion. They used sexual and nonsexual computer images to see if priming men for death made them more interested in sex.

When men were threatened with death, then shown different images, they pulled a lever faster in response to sexual images. When they were primed for sexual images with dental pain, there was no difference in how quickly they responded to the nonsexual images.


Gillath notes people are “wired” biologically toward survival. "If you think you might die soon, there's a huge advantage for a man to use short-term mating strategies — to make sure there are a bunch of offspring and hope that some of them survive — but women can't do the same thing."

The scientists say the "life history theory” also supports their idea that a bad economy might drive men to have sex with more partners.

They note that men who live in poor neighborhoods have sex at a younger age and birth rates slow in richer countries.

The study, due for publication in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, doesn’t mean the economy is currently driving men to sexual promiscuity.

But Gillath says unemployment and lower standards of living could mean men could start straying.

"The economy today is giving us signs that we have lower chances of survival," Gillath said, There's not as much money, we're not sure if we're going to have our jobs, we're not sure we can support our existing kids. It's like living on the savannah and discovering you don't have enough fruit and the animals are scarce. In such times, guys might be more inclined to spread their genes and hence be highly prepared for sex."

If your man is suddenly cheating, the authors suggest you can blame it on the economy. A man just needs to spread his genes around for survival. Unemployment and lower standards of living could be priming men for sex with more partners.

Image credit: Morguefile