Putting A Price On Adultery : Planet Money And wondering whether the recession affects fidelity.

Putting A Price On Adultery

Did South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford consider the cost of his affair? Photo illustration by Lindsay Powell from images by Davis Turner/Getty Images and iStockPhoto hide caption

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Photo illustration by Lindsay Powell from images by Davis Turner/Getty Images and iStockPhoto

Why do politicians even bother having affairs? Every time another one hangs his head and apologizes to the citizens of the great city/state of Anywhere, USA, we all loudly wonder what he could possibly have been thinking. Didn't he know he'll get caught, put his family through hell, exhaust all of us with the details and jeopardize his career? The costs are so great, how could the affair possibly be worth it?

These questions assume that cheating is a choice -- and a rational one at that, with the chooser considering potential costs and benefits. You know who loves rational decisions like this? Economists.

I've been working on story that asks if economics can add to our understanding of extramarital affairs. I put a shout out on the interwebs that I was looking for people who have had affairs and had considered economic calculations. I figured I'd get two or three responses. I exceeded my inbox quota (which, granted, is way too small.)

Many of you described rational financial considerations. You ended affairs, avoided affairs or left marriages because you were protecting your own economic interests. Then there were those of you who described huge financial costs that made carrying on an affair seem deeply irrational. Hotels, airfare, cell phone contracts and apartments. One philandering CEO in New York City told me:

As JP Morgan said about owning a yacht, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford to own one.

Karen Krebsbach described a three-year affair with a married man in Caracas, Venezuela, that seemed to work against her financial interests. She says the money stuff was complicated thanks to cultural and international differences:

Since I was presumably the more "wealthy" partner, I was expected to come up with a great deal of the financial support of our dates, including when we traveled.

When I put the question of economics and affairs to economist Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario fame, he wondered about effects of a recession on the frequency of affairs:

People have less cash, but more time on their hands. Also, business travel is down and junkets frowned upon (doesn't a lot of this sort of thing start on trips)? But domestic pressures over money are higher (and maybe a spouse loses a job...). Which way does it go?

That's a question for you, I think.

Bonus: Baseline Scenario on the limits of economics.