Do Easier Affairs Help Divorce Lawyers?

A column by Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times reports on the dating service Ashley Madison, which matches up married women and men who wish to have a quick fling.

The service is a market intermediary for extramarital affairs. Its founder claims that, by lowering search costs for affairs, he enables people in unhappy marriages to stay married. Daum says that perhaps she hears sounds of divorce lawyers lowering their fees, since they recognize that the divorce market is related to the market for extramarital sex.

The real question is whether providing low-cost flings increases or decreases divorce — whether making alternatives more readily available increases movement out of marriage.

I believe that this is unlikely; in a variety of contexts — including jobs, locations, and marriages — mobility is a push, with the pull from alternatives having little impact. So maybe the guy really is increasing well-being by lowering search costs, with no negative side effects.

Ken Arromdee

The reason that affairs break up marriages is that the other spouse considers infidelity to be bad--not that the other spouse considers *discovery* of infidelity to be bad. Reducing the number of divorces by making it harder to discover infidelity without reducing actual infidelity, then, isn't necessarily good.


I would argue that--strictly speaking statistically--decreasing the cost of affairs increases the frequency of divorce, especially if you want to weigh in the time-to-divorce (i.e., a longer marriage is more significant than a shorter marriage). I feel like the opposite is certainly true: if there was a significant cost to infidelity, than both parties are more likely to remain married because of reduced options.

However, I feel the real question should be: "do cheaper affairs increase or decrease the number of happy couples or not?" Or to be more general: "is the net affect of this service over all parties positive or negative?" Derailing marriages that are already on destructive paths is inconsequential (in my eyes, at least). Also, as the founder suggests, it is plausible (but not necessarily true) that some couples actually live more content with discrete infidelity.


"...with no negative side effects." --> Really? Please amend this flimsy statement.


Isn't the difficulty of "fling finding," without being discovered, a form of a dip (referencing Seth Godin's book The Dip)? The difficulty ensures that typically only those truly determined to have a fling will do so. Without that hurdle, then many who previously wouldn't have an affair out of fear or lack of determination, would now have easy and "safe" access to one. For the life of me, I can't figure out how that is healthy.


Many people don't cheat because of the difficulties involved in carrying out an affair. And many of those people are individuals who are happy in their marriage but who nonetheless would not turn down the chance to have an extra-marital 'encounter' if it were made easy to do so.

This website makes it easy. It's likely that a large number of otherwise 'happy' marriages will end when the affairs orchestrated through this site are uncovered.


I feel as though eventually, a court somewhere, will force this company's books open for some divorce proceeding. As soon as that happens, the clients confidentiality will be compromised, and the service will crash.

On a lighter note, I hope whoever started this site is "happily" married and their spouse is cheating on them; preferably with someone who has a STD.


I would say that divorce rates would probably stay the same. I've read that, for the most part, men have affairs to stay married, and women have affairs to get divorced.

Though, you know, that's gender stereotyping, I have to imagine there is some sort of truth to it.


Absolutely a tool inspired by the devil. Marriage (not to mention our bodies) is sacred. Could you imagine this website going up with the law of Moses still in place? I can just see it:

Sign up to have an affair here...punishment of death to follow.

There is a reason why God had a strict punishment in place for those that commit adultery...and there were no exceptions for those that wanted to commit adultery but stay married.

This is a wolf without even the sheep's clothing. Ridiculous. It's sad that society is becoming more and more amoral.


Total nonsense. Not your comment, but the site's justification. A lot of men "play away" and that's why there are escorts. You know, women or men you pay for "companionship," meaning time plus sex. At best, this site is a way for men to decrease the amount they're currently spending on escorts. Or as they might say, "Hobbyists rejoice! Sex that's not $300+ an hour." It also may help push a guy to fool around who otherwise would be scared to spend the money or who has some hang up about escorts.

A guy who sees escorts is "hobbying" in the lingo, just as swinging is the "lifestyle."

I wonder how many of the women on this site are really providers - the hobby word for escorts - who use the site to arrange dates.


#9 There are entire websites/forums dedicated to the escort activity with provider profiles, reviews, rating systems, etc. so I doubt those folks are on ashley madison for that. One can even go to Craigslist and find the ads- though they are cracking down on them- both from the website and from the law.

#8 Barney I think you meant the last word to be immoral not amoral. And some believe man created a God with strict punishments in place to keep order among the illiterate and superstitious sheep herders and farmers of 2000-3000 years ago. To keep a subsitenance agrarian society from imploding.

The website is just focusing on an underdeveloped market for classy affairs versus people having to go to more adult content themed websites where people literaly bare more than just their likes/dislikes. And this site removes the lies that one might have to make if using a "standard" website dating service- if that service even let them put anything close to the truth of what they want on its profiles.

We also need to understand that there is a big difference between an emotional relationship and a sexual relationship between two people. At a basic level, this questions the economics of fidelity, child rearing, passing on genes, morals about money, etc. versus an emotional attachment.

The LA Times article spun it as people who want to have fun but no commitment. I once read that some of the alt-love type people (polyamory, etc) consider sexual-fidelity only based relationships old fashioned- ie that a person who would divorce their spouse only because of sex with another and not consider the whole spouses emotions is old fashioned and backward. That emotional infidelity (even without the physical act or even contact) is much, much worse.

Think also that there are some married people who have alternative arrangements worked out: open marriages for both partners; one spouse gives the other permission to meet other people due to health issues; maybe one spouse has changed gender preference orientation and while staying married for children, the other wants appropriate opposite gender physical interaction; maybe they are both swingers into recreational sex, etc. This could be a good classy outlet for those type people too versus more outlets with adult themed content.

I personally think that ashleymadison is pretty old web type stuff as I remember seeing married people dating websites back in the late '90s/ early 2000's...


I have an idea

Why don't you require couples to get licensed by psychological assessment for 2 years before they get married?

Because the lust will wear off.



I can imagine the lure of trying to get access to the database of such an agency, to see if your partner might be in it. :-)

Would be interesting to know what are the percentages of male versus female customers of such a service.


I am not a lawyer, but I think there would have to be legal ramification from participating in a site like this. For folks in the military (where adultery is a punishable offense) registry alone could be sufficient justification for punishment (we also have extremely different standards of evidence than civilian courts).

I know that sodomy (including fallacio and cunnilingus) are still illegal in several states. Are there no states where adultery is illegal???



Please excuse the spelling error.

Joe Smith

This type of site reduces the "barriers to exit" from a marriage and so will increase the divorce rate or at least shorten the mean time to divorce for failed marriages.

The people who sign up may believe initially that a "zipless f***" is possible but it isn't - or at least it isn't for anyone over the age of thirty.


This raises an important question: Is it OK to have a discrete discreet affair?


Let's not forget the fundamental issue here: having an affair is awesome, and it gets results.


First, Barney, there is clearly no place for morality in economic analysis. Please. Beleive what you want, but the very precept of "seeing through" morality is what made Freakonomics so popular.

Second, I would take exactly the opposite position as #1: very often the reason marriages break up is not primarily that one spouse considers infidelity bad (although all must to some extent) as much as the embarrassment and discomfort of discovery. To the extent that the site provides discretion I can see it lowering divorce rates.

Last: so often we forget the anthropological perspective, which (uncomfortably) reminds us that we are not so different from other large primates. Males are just plain going to be more promiscuous, as is their biological imperative, and are thus less likely to get emotionally involved in affairs, whereas women tend to be the opposite. I would agree with Spring, therefore, that generally speaking men have affairs to stay married, whereas women have affairs to find new partners. The effect on divorce rates, therefore, would depend on the makeup of the site's female patronage.



I'm quite disturbed by the notion that pandering to the happiness of one member of a marriage somehow increases "well-being by lowering search costs, with no negative side effects"

I thought you guys were supposed to look at the big picture? From strictly economic terms, the total cost of ownership (including all the money invested during the dating and honeymoon phases as well as other general expenditures which strengthen the bond) of a marriage should decrease as the marriage matures. Couple that with the cost of divorce and alimony, child support, the negative economic effect on women, search costs of separating, possible therapy costs, time, etc. and you can hardly argue that any service which encourages a main cause of divorce has "no negative side effects."

Is this the same tunnel vision that leads us to believe that cheap shoes, diamonds, cotton, etc. have no negative side effects because the consumer is ultimately satisfied? Where is the journal article that affirms or denies the owner's statement? Or at least a comparison of the cost/outcome of therapy and the cost/outcome of infidelity. Come on.....




#10, it's me #9. Well, duh. You think I posted anonymously because that's my name? I asked around and the escorts have heard bad things, as in you might meet some nut case and get outed, and everyone says it feels like picking someone up in a bar. For the security minded, that's where the danger lies.