Equity theory has recently been found to be a useful framework for under-standing the effects of imbalances in intimate “contractual” relationships such as marriage. Equitable couples seem to be happier, more satisfied with their relationship, and more confident that it will last than are their more mismatched, i.e., inequitable, counterparts. Furthermore, inequitable couples predictably act to “set things right” in their marriage. They either restore actual equity to the relationship or psychologically set their relationship in balance. If neither works, they may “leave the field.” Extramarital sex may be viewed as an equity restoration mechanism in that (1) it may be used by the deprived partner to achieve actual equity, (2) it may indicate a partner's readiness to leave the relationship because he feels he can “do better,” or (3) it may represent a desire to achieve equity in an alternative relationship(s) when inequity pervades the primary one. The hypothesis that the inequitable/underbenefited group should be more likely than the equitable group or the inequitable/overbenefited group to have engaged in extramarital sex was tested using data from a large-scale Psychology Todayquestionnaire. The results indicated that men and women in inequitable/under-benefited relationships had more extramarital affairs and began their extramarital activities earlier than did men and women in equitable and inequitable/over-benefited relationships. Alternative explanations of this finding, sex-role demands and length of the relationship, are explored and discarded as untenable.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Austin, W., and Walster, E. (1974a). Reactions to confirmations and disconfirmations of expectancies of equity and inequity.J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 30: 208–216.
Austin, W., and Walster, E. (1974b). Participants' reactions to equity with the world.J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 10: 528–548.
Austin, W., and Walster, E. (1975). Equity with the world: An investigation of the trans-relational effects of equity and inequity.Sociometry 38: 474–496.
Bell, R. R., Turner, S., and Rosen, L. (1975). A multivariate analysis of female extramarital coitus.J. Marriage Family 37: 375–384.
Berscheid, E., Walster, E., and Bohrnstedt, G. (1973). The body image report.Psychol. Today 7: 119–131.
Homans, G. C. (1961).Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (rev. ed.), Harcourt, Brace, New York.
Hunt, M. (1974).Sexual Behavior in the 1970s Dell, New York.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. C., and Martin, C. E. (1948).Sexual Behavior in the Human Male Saunders, Philadelphia.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., and Gebhard, P. H. (1953).Sexual Behavior in the Human Female Saunders, Philadelphia.
Pearlin, L. I. (1975). Status inequality and stress in marriage.Am. J. Sociol. 40: 344–357.
Scanzoni, J. (1972).Sexual Bargaining: Power Politics in the American Marriage Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Sussman, M. B. (1975). Marriage contracts: Social and legal consequences. Presented at the 1975 International Workshop on Changing Sex-Roles in Family and Society, June 17.
Traupmann, J. (1978). A longitudinal study of equity in intimate relationships. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin.
Utne, M. K. (1977). Equity and intimate relations: A test of the theory in marital interaction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin.
Walster, G. W. (1975). The Walsteret al. (1973) equity formula: A correction.Represent. Res. Soc. Psychol. 6: 65–67.
Walster, E., Walster, G. W., and Berscheid, E. (1978).Equity: Theory and Research Allyn and Bacon, Boston.
Walster, E., Utne, M. K., and Traupmann, J. Equity and intimate relations. In Burgess, R. L., and Huston, T. L., (eds.),Social Exchange in Developing Relationships, in press.
Research supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH 26681.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Walster, E., Traupmann, J. & Walster, G.W. Equity and extramarital sexuality. Arch Sex Behav 7, 127–142 (1978). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01542062
- equity theory
- extramarital sexuality