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.

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  1. Ken Arromdee says:

    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.

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  2. Sanns says:

    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.

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  3. cmh says:

    “…with no negative side effects.” –> Really? Please amend this flimsy statement.

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  4. DUST!N says:

    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.

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  5. Ben says:

    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.

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  6. Dave says:

    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.

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  7. Spring says:

    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.

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  8. Barney says:

    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.

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