Marriage, which for many is the sign of a loving and intimate relationship, is now a constitutional right of all U.S. citizens. In his widely read dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia asserted that if anything, “freedom of intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage.” There may be at least some truth to this statement if data provided by married-dating site Ashley Madison is of any indication. The site’s 16.9 million-and-growing U.S. members have been sold on the opportunity for a discreet extramarital affair.
Based on data provided by Ashley Madison, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of site members in 22 cities as a percentage of the metropolitan areas’ populations. Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania led the nation with 5.6% of their population Ashley Madison members. An estimated 0.7% of people living in the San Francisco area were members, the smallest percentage reviewed. These are the cities with the most Ashley Madison users.
According to Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, where you live is just one of a range of factors contributing to unfaithfulness. The data provided are for cities only, and there may be less-urban areas where cheating on your spouse is more common. On the whole, however, infidelity, as measured by Ashley Madison membership, is more common in cities than in rural areas. Biderman explained, “Many people pick up and move to cities, leaving their social safety nets behind.” This, together with the vastly larger city populations which offer far more opportunities for connection, appear to increase the likelihood of infidelity.
Finances also appear to play a role. Wealthier individuals are far more likely to use Ashley Madison than less wealthy people. In six of the 10 states where these cities are located the percentage of households earning more than $200,000 annually exceeded the national percentage of 5%. In Boston and New York, as many as 10% of households earned that much. Many of the site’s users in these cities may have been among those households.
Conversely, financial distress can also increase the prevalence of adultery. According to Biderman, Ashley Madison membership actually grew during the recession. Biderman reasoned that since a majority of marital discourse is related to home economics, and domestic conflicts are often centered around financial distress, economic downturns can therefore lead to discontent and in turn, unfaithfulness. “When times are tough and you need your partner the most, sometimes you get them the least,” Biderman said.
Male users outnumber female users by a wide margin. However, the disparity varies considerably by age group. For example, there are hundreds of thousands of men 65 and over using Ashley Madison, while there are no women in that age cohort. For the men and women in their 30s living in urban areas, however, the share of Ashley Madison members is roughly equal, according to Biderman.
Just as high incomes can foster infidelity, so too can economic independence, a position enjoyed disproportionately by men. This partly explains the relatively equal shares among men and women in their 30s living in cities because this particular group of women is far more likely to have economic independence. In fact, the workplace has traditionally been the most popular location to start an affair. When these factors change, Biderman explained, when women move out of the city, enter their 40s, or choose a different career such as stay-at-home mom, the membership among women drops significantly.
Adultery is not a new phenomenon. In the Old Testament both parties participating in adultery may have been put to death as a punishment. Today, adultery is still illegal in 23 states, although prosecutions are rare. Boston, New York, and North Carolina, where three of the top 10 cities for cheating spouses are located, have formal penalties for adultery. Adultery remains highly offensive within most monogamous relationships.
While many people seeking affairs do so to escape an unhappy monogamous relationship, the motives involved are both numerous and very complicated. Ultimately, people seeking affairs do so for different reasons, and Ashley Madison encourages the dishonest behavior. For Biderman, what is clear above all is, “People are more willing to cheat than be honest.”
To identify the most adulterous states, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data provided by Ashley Madison, which used a geo-targeting tool to determine the number of members in 23 U.S. cities. While the user counts are for people roughly within city limits, it also captures people outside the city. However, the number does not reach the boundaries of the larger, metropolitan area. To avoid inflating the per capita figures, Ashley Madison calculated the percentages using the larger metro area population figures. This means the percentages listed here are likely all slight underestimations. Ashley Madison also provided the percentage of members who were married, the most popular destinations for members seeking affairs, user statistics by age group, and peak hours of site visits. In addition to data provided by Ashley Madison, we looked at median household income, the percentage of households earning more than $200,000 and less than $10,000 in 2013 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The percentage of each metro area’s population who were married and divorced also came from the ACS. The percentage of area adults for whom religion was important came from a 2013 Gallup poll. Washington D.C. was excluded for data integrity issues.
These are the cities with the highest Ashley Madison membership.
10. Charlotte, North Carolina
> Pct. population who are members: 2.8%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 65,400
> Pct. population married: 40.7%
> Pct. population divorced: 10%
There are roughly 65,400 Ashley Madison members in Charlotte, North Carolina, or an estimated 2.8% of the area’s population — this was the 10th largest per capita figure among the 23 cities for which data was available. As was the case for nearly all cities, more than three-quarters of Charlotte’s Ashley Madison members identified themselves as either married or attached. Of the dating site’s male members, 38% were in their 30s, the largest cohort among the site’s users. Female users in Charlotte, on the other hand, were just as likely to be in their 40s as in their 30s. Like a few other states where adultery is more common than elsewhere, cheating is actually a misdemeanor in North Carolina, punishable by a fine or even jail time.
9. San Diego, California
> Pct. population who are members: 2.9%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 91,000
> Pct. population married: 43.7%
> Pct. population divorced: 10%
Nearly 44% of San Diego residents are married, the highest percentage compared with the 23 cities reviewed but still well below the nationwide proportion of nearly 48%. As was the case for users in every other city, more than 70% of Ashley Madison members identified themselves as married or attached, indicating the desire for a discreet encounter. Wealth may play a role in the prevalence of infidelity. Not only does Ashley Madison require payment at numerous intervals when arranging an affair, but also wealthy individuals are on the whole more likely to be Ashley Members users. A typical area household earned $61,426, well above the national figure of $52,250.
8. Houston, Texas
> Pct. population who are members: 3.0%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 187,000
> Pct. population married: 42.1%
> Pct. population divorced: 10.5%
More than 41% of Houston residents are married, one of the highest percentages compared with other cities reviewed. Despite this, less than 70% of Houston’s Ashley Madison members were married, one of the lower figures compared to other cities. Unlike several other states in which particularly adulterous cities are located, marital infidelity is not against the law in Texas. However, adultery can still affect a divorce proceeding by assigning more blame for the failed marriage on the adulterer, which is then considered in the property division. The evidence suggests that people will have an affair regardless of the possible ramifications, even in countries where one’s life is at stake. In the U.S., Ashley Madison’s promise of secrecy may be appealing to people in areas where the penalties are more severe.
7. New Orleans, Louisiana
> Pct. population who are members: 3.1%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 36,000
> Pct. population married: 31.3%
> Pct. population divorced: 11.9%
More than 54% of New Orleans area residents stated religion was important in their lives and that they attended services weekly or near weekly. The share of people saying as much exceeded the national percentage of 40.6% in only three other states where adultery appears to be most common. As in most states, tracking and spying are illegal in Louisiana without consent. However, exceptions to the law are made for spouses who track and spy on each other, which may make services such as Ashley Madison more appealing. The site offers a number of technological safeguards in its attempt to provide reliably discreet encounters.
6. Las Vegas, Nevada
> Pct. population who are members: 4.0%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 79,000
> Pct. population married: 43.3%
> Pct. population divorced: 13.6%
Not only was Las Vegas among the cities with the highest Ashley Madison membership, but also the area was the most popular destination for Ashley Madison members arranging meetings — for both women and men. Approximately 79,000 people living in and around the Sin City were members of the dating site, or about 4% of the area’s population. More than 43% of area residents were married, lower than the national proportion but still nearly the highest compared to other cities on this list. On the other hand, area residents were more likely than most Americans to be divorced — nearly 14% of the population was divorced versus the national average proportion of 11%.
5. Los Angeles, California
> Pct. population who are members: 4.1%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 533,000
> Pct. population married: 38.3%
> Pct. population divorced: 8.4%
Since high income earners are more likely to be Ashley Madison members, the relatively large percentage of extremely wealthy Los Angeles residents may partly explain the prevalence of adultery in the city. Nearly 8% of the area’s households earned more than $200,000 versus the national share of 5%. The metro area also had a median household income of $58,869, higher than the national median of $52,250. As was the case in nearly every other city reviewed, men and women in their 30s were the most likely age group to use Ashley Madison, accounting for roughly 40% of the overall membership. The prevalence of infidelity can encourage suspiciousness, which may have partly contributed to the higher usage of private investigators in the area. In fact, the Los Angeles area had the highest concentration of private detective jobs in the nation.
4. New York City, New York
> Pct. population who are members: 4.8%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 962,168
> Pct. population married: 38.8%
> Pct. population divorced: 7.9%
While a relatively small percentage of New York City area residents were married — 38.8% — a relatively high percentage of Ashley Madison users in the area identified themselves as married or attached — 84%. With less than 8% of area residents divorced, Ashley Madison’s promise of secrecy may be working well in New York City. The city’s divorce rate was one of the smallest compared to both the nation and other cities reporting the most adultery. Of course, the low divorce rate may be better explained by the low marriage rate. As Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman suggested, income can also play a role in the likelihood of taking such risks. One in 10 New York households earned more than $200,000 annually, a far higher proportion than in most of the nation. Suspicious spouses are also more likely to hire private investigators, and the prevalence of adultery in the area may have partly contributed to the metro area having nearly the highest concentration of private detective occupations.
3. Boston, Massachusetts
> Pct. population who are members: 4.8%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 214,000
> Pct. population married: 27.8%
> Pct. population divorced: 8.1%
Adultery is actually against the law in Massachusetts and can result in up to three years in jail and fines as high as $500, although these laws are seldom enforced. Like in a few other cities, wealth may play a role in the relatively high share of residents using Ashley Madison’s services. One in 10 area households earned more than $200,000, twice the national share. According to a 2013 report in the Boston Globe, the Back Bay neighborhood led the area for Ashley Madison usage. Boston itself has moved up in the ranking since that time, when it was seventh on Ashley Madison’s list of cities with the most registered users.
2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
> Pct. population who are members: 5.6%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 131,375
> Pct. population married: 32%
> Pct. population divorced: 8.9%
There are about 131,375 Ashley Madison members living in Pittsburgh, one of the highest raw numbers. They comprised 5.6% of the population, tied with Austin for the highest among all cities reviewed. Less than one-third of the population was married as of 2013. Like all of the cities with the highest Ashley Madison membership, the proportion of married people was well below the national average proportion of nearly 48%. Perhaps as a result of the relatively small married population, the percentage of people in the area who were divorced was also relatively small, at less than 9%. Unlike most of the cities considered the most adulterous, Pittsburgh residents were not especially wealthy. The median household income of $51,291 was lower than the national median income of $52,250, and 4% of households earned more than $200,000 versus the national share of 5%.
1. Austin, Texas
> Pct. population who are members: 5.6%
> Ashley Madison members in city: 70,000
> Pct. population married: 39.1%
> Pct. population divorced: 10.9%
There are roughly 70,000 Ashley Madison users in Austin, or an estimated 5.6% of the area’s population. No other city for which data was available had a higher percentage of its population using the dating website. While Ashley Madison is designed for married or attached individuals, 26% of users in Austin were single, nearly the highest such proportion among cities reviewed. Like most cities with the highest membership, Austin’s median household income of $61,750 was higher than the national income figure. While adultery is not illegal in Texas, a person who has suffered from a cheating spouse’s behavior can sue for damages.
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