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  Chapter Four:

  Marriage Rate and Age
  Premarital Sex
  Cohabiting Couples
  Extramarital Sex
  Attitudes about Sex
  Married Couples
  Married Women
  Nonmarital Births
  Parent-Child Contact



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Extramarital Sex

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Extramarital sexual activity followed a downward trend.
The declining incidence of extramarital sex may seem implausible to television viewers who see a world of wholesale promiscuity in which marital fidelity is the exception rather than the rule. The data tell a different story. The earliest bars in the chart are based on the original Kinsey studies, published in 1948 and 1953, which have been challenged on the grounds of defective sampling. But studies of marital adjustment conducted between 1929 and 1950 produced similar results. The remaining bars on the chart, based on the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey, show an unmistakable decline in extramarital sexual activity during the latter part of the century, especially among married men. 

The trend might be explained by the fact that the average older respondent in the sample had been married longer and therefore had more exposure to extramarital temptations. But that explanation would not hold for female respondents. For example, many more women who reached twenty-one around 1968 reported extramarital relationships than those who came of age a decade earlier. 

According to the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey, the most authoritative study of American sexual practices, “The vast majority of men and women report that they are monogamous while married or living with a partner. Over 90 percent of the women and over 75 percent of the men in every cohort report fidelity within their marriage, over its entirety.” 

One likely source of the declining incidence of extramarital sex is the increasing ease of divorce, which allows people to leave unsatisfying marriages.

Chapter 4 chart 4

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

For the Kinsey data, see page 585 of the volume on males and pages 416–417 of the volume on females (both cited in note for page 70). For the 1992 data, see table 5.9A of Laumann et al. (also cited in note for page 70).


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