When former presidential candidate John Edwards cheated on his wife, he wasn't thinking about what it might cost. That's what Bruce Elmslie, professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire, says.
"John Edwards had everything to lose, but he still went ahead and did it," said Elmslie, a professor at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, who studied why people cheat on their spouses. "If he had been the democratic nominee, the party would be in shambles."
Elmslie used a government study on cheating to do a cost/benefits analysis and discovered that men who cheat are simply taking advantage of the opportunity without regard to the expense -- while women who cheat are doing so because their new partner is usually a better economic and genetic fit.
"You wonder why someone like that didn't take that into account," Elmslie said. "He didn't look at the costs. The costs for him were astronomical, and he still did it. It's consistent with male behavior generally."
The research from Elmslie's study, conducted with Edinaldo Tebaldi, assistant professor of economics at Bryant University, was recently presented in an article called, "So, what did you do last night? The Economics of Infidelity." The bottom line in the study: it comes down to biology.
Men want sex. And when they have the opportunity, they often don't resist, Elmslie's study shows. And women want men who have the education and financial means to provide for a family and are good candidates for fatherhood. "It does say that biology has a lot to do with the way we operate," Elmslie said. "How you respond to those urges, though, it's a conscious decision."
But that decision doesn't always involve a cost/benefit analysis. What does that mean? If you're religious, most faiths tell you it's wrong. If you're a a public figure, you face the potential end of your career. If you consider yourself family-oriented, you face the potential loss of your support system. John Edwards, he said, was all of those things -- and still cheated on his wife. Why? "Males don't seem to respond to the potential costs," Elmslie said.
Among the other findings in the study:
- Men are 7 percent more likely to cheat than women.
- The possibility of men cheating increases as men age, reaching a peak at 55. For women, the peak age is 45, which, according to Elmslie, is because the biology of reproduction becomes less important.
- Women married to a man with an advanced degree is less likely to cheat, because it may be harder to find a partner whose pay is comparable, researchers theorize. Men don't seem to care about the financial loss that might occur if they lose their partner's paycheck because they've cheated.
- College-educated men are less likely to have an affair than men with a high school education or less. But education level makes no difference in whether a woman cheats or not.
- Upper class women have a higher incidence of cheating, because there's more potential candidates around them. This holds true particularly if they live in a big city, where the number of potential candidates increases.
As far as Reille Hunter, the 42-year-old film producer that was the other woman in the Edwards affair, she followed the pattern of female cheaters in the study as well, according to Elmslie. The National Enquirer, which broke the scandal, has alleged Edwards is the father of her baby daughter, though both she and Edwards have denied it. "She wasn't married," Elmslie said. "But she was older. Her biological clock was ticking. It made her a very good candidate."
"She's already a successful person. She may not be looking for a mate...Here's a person who is unavailable for marriage. What would she be looking for. She's successful. She doesn't need money. Good genes is what she's looking for."
"John Edwards shows a lot of signs of being of good genetic quality. A lot of women would be interested in him. He'd have a lot of opportunities."Edwards follows a long line of married politicians who were caught in affairs, including former President Bill Clinton, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others. "They are high-profile males with lots of opportunity," Elmslie said. "They'd be in high demand, and if they're in high demand, they're much more willing to cheat."
"Why is it that high-profile males get caught up in these situations? High-profile males have more opportunity," Elmslie said. "They're much more willing to cheat," he added.
Unlike celebrities, like baseball player Alex Rodriquez, who has been accused of an emotional affair with The Material Girl, Madonna, there's no benefit to a scandal, Elmslie said. "I would think, personally, looking at cost and benefits, celebrities are more likely to cheat than politicians," he said. "From a celebrity standpoint, any publicity is good. But for a guy like John Edwards, his career is over -- at least his career as a politician."