The Infidelity of General Petraeus: Factors that Lead to Extramarital Affairs


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Petraeus affair: High status men are more likely to stray. Image by quinn.anya.

The powerful General Petraeus, head of the CIA, was brought down by an email sent by his lover to another woman, who then brought it to the attention of the FBI.

Is this an anomaly?

Unfortunately, not for older men.

Social scientists have studied factors that make infidelity more likely, and Petraeus falls into a high risk group.

Paula Broadwell and General Petraeus: Factors Influencing the Probability of Cheating, a business selling surveillance of spouses, sponsored a study conducted by PhD. candidate Elizabeth Crouch.

Crouch reviewed the literature available on marital infidelity and reported the following findings:

  • Historically, men have been more likely to engage in infidelity than women.
  • People with higher incomes were more likely to engage in infidelity.
  • People with more education (graduate degrees versus high school diplomas) were more likely to engage in infidelity.
  • Some age groups are less likely to engage in infidelity than others, with the least likely ages being over sixty years of age for both men and women.
  • Nearly one quarter of Americans engage in marital infidelity.
  • Infidelity contributes to 50% of divorces.
  • Younger women are committing infidelity as often as younger men.

By these measures, a rich, well-educated man with a stay-at-home wife is the most likely to cheat. concludes, “A situation in which the respondent worked and the spouse was at home yields the greatest report of infidelitythe most important variable for predicting infidelity is income.”

While Holly Petraeus, wife of General Petraeus, who serves as the “assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” according the article, is not currently a stay-at-home wife, she has been praised “for raising their two children while he was away at war.” 

General David Petraeus has a Ph.D. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the educational group most likely to stray. Paula Broadwell is a PhD Candidate, which puts her into the same educational range, although she fits few other criteria.

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