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Age, Gender and Adultery

Annette Lawson and Colin Samson
The British Journal of Sociology
Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 409-440
DOI: 10.2307/590485
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/590485
Page Count: 32
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Age, Gender and Adultery
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Abstract

A sample of largely middle class and white British women and men has provided both quantitative and qualitative data about their attitudes and beliefs towards maintaining the sexual exclusivity rule of marriage and about any 'adulterous liaisons' they may have had. In this paper, mainly quantitative material is employed to show striking differences in attitudes and in reported behaviour in different age cohorts and between women and men. In particular the youngest women are the most 'permissive', waiting the least time following marriage for a first liaison although they still overwhelmingly believe in sexual fidelity when they marry. This group has 'overtaken' men in both attitude and behaviour. The group least concerned about sexual fidelity in marriage 'now' (as compared with when they first married) are those who have stayed married for over ten years to the same spouse but who themselves have had at least one liaison. Those most concerned are women who have remarried following a divorce in which adultery (either their own or their husband's) was relevant. It appears that gender is more salient than age. The most marked changes are traced to the decade 1968-78 when macrostructural and cultural events of greatest relevance to women occurred. Two especially are identified: the return of married women in large numbers into paid, albeit intermittent, employment outside the home and the widespread influence of what is here called the Myth of Me, a powerful belief in the need to develop the self -- 'self-actualisation'.

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