Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Infidelity around the world....   posted by Razib @ 5/09/2007 09:42:00 PM

Update: I forgot a major note, the data below refers to extramarital relationships within the past year. Specifically, a sexual partner not your spouse.

I got Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee, a few weeks ago. It's a pretty fluffy book that really doesn't have much meat. But, there was a nice collation of world wide data (that is available) on infidelity. I've reproduced it below the fold. Note: if you are going to comment, please don't analyze one particular data point, the regional trends are what you need to look at. This data is merged from a host of different surveys and obviously isn't entirely representative nationally.

Togo (1998)37.00.5
Cameroon (2004)36.54.4
Ivory Coast (1998)36.11.9
Mozambique (2003)28.93.1
Tanzania (2005)27.62.6
Niger (1998)27.20.1
Haiti (2000)25.40.8
Benin (2001)23.40.6
Zambia (2002)22.61.5
Mali (2001)22.40.7
Uganda (2001)22.31.2
Burkina Faso (2003)20.10.5
Chad (2004)19.90.7
China urban (2000)18.33.2
Dominican Republican (2002)18.00.8
Malawi (2000)16.30.5
Nigeria (2003)15.20.6
Mexico City (2001)15.0n/a
Zimbabwe (1999)13.80.7
Peru (1996)13.50.1
Ghana (2003)13.00.4
Namibia (2000)13.01.2
Brazil (1996)12.00.8
Kenya (2003)11.51.6
Norway (1997)10.86.6
China ( 2000)10.5n/a
Great Britain****9.35.1
Bolivia (2003)8.60.4
Ethiopia (2000)6.91
Armenia (2000)4.70.1
Philippines (2003)4.50
U.S.A. (2004)*3.93.1
France (2004)**3.82
Italy (1998)3.50.9
Rwanda (2000)3.20.1
Nepal (2001)3.00
Switzerland (1997)3.01.1
Australia (2002)2.51.8
Bangladesh (2004)1.6n/a
Kazakhstan (1999)1.60.9

* married only; ages 18 or older
** married only, ages 18.54
*** married and cohabitating, ages 16-44

Caveats? Well, obviously the differential between males & females needs to be explained. Some of it is a real outcome of the structure of societies. That is, males will marry later, and young women will enter into affairs with older men. In societies like Russia and parts of Africa there is a large imbalance in the sex ratio as one goes north of 30, so males indulge in operational polygyny. Obviously this probably isn't the whole story, there are cultural expectations, and it seems likely that women will under-report infidelities more than males (in some cultures the author implies that males may actually exaggerate how unfaithful they are to prove their virility). Not only will women consciously lie, it seems possible that women will engage in more self-deception (because of cultural expectations). I had a female friend who didn't count a one night stand as infidelity because "it wasn't a relationship." In contrast, male acquaintances that engage in this sort of behavior not only count, but revel, in their additions to their head count.

Now, as for the rough geographic differences, what's going on here? Some of this again might be due to variations in the perception of the questions being asked and the survey methodology, but looking across nations some trends emerge. African countries seem to exhibit a lot more infidelity than, for example, Nepal or Bangladesh. Being who I am I know a bit about the culture of Bangladesh, and I will offer that Bangladeshi males are not faithful because of their moral fiber, rather, they have no opportunity. When transfered to a context where infidelity is a possibility, "nature takes its course." In Bangladesh the reality is that young women who enter into sexual relationships with older males outside of the bounds of marriage are simply not "respectable" (and very rare). Women are closely watched by their male kinfolk, it is a patrilineal and patrifocal society, and despite Islam, predominantly exogamous (i.e., wives are "strangers" in the houses of their husbands, surrounded by his relatives). Female honor is essential in a society where property is passed down through the male lineage. Additionally, males are the primary economic producers, being in evidence in the fields, while women are more likely to be found working within the home or in the matrix of the village of her husband (remember, women tend to move to the household of their husbands, and so that means that they are surrounded by her husband's relatives). In Africa the situation is different, garden based agriculture means women are much more independent economic players, and matrilineal inheritance means that paternity certainty is not so inextricably tied to transfers of wealth across the generations. If most of your wealth is coming from your mother and her family, your father's line is less relevant.

There is also another issue in Africa which I think needs be brought up: Christianity. I've just finished reading some material on the period in Europe between 500 and 1000, and one point to note is that it was rather difficult for Christian clergy of a Greco-Roman orientation to stamp out polygyny amongst elite males in "barbarian" societies. That is, the nobility of Ireland and Francia were commonly polygynous, even on high up to the Merovingian dynasty. Sometimes this tension between Christian priests and the rulers upon whose patronage they depended played out centuries after the introduction of Christianity. In Africa Christianity is generally less than a century old, with much of the conversion occurring within the last two generations. While the churches preach monogamy, in keeping with Christian models ultimately derived from the Greco-Roman precedent, elite males still tend to enter into operationally polygynous relationships. Because these males are often Christian (Christianity often correlates with high socioeconomic status, and so ability to support extra wives and mistresses) they do not solemnize their relationships with their "secondary" wives. So by definition, if not operation, these are extramarital relationships.