Skip to main content

The State of Our Unions 2019: Current Health of Marriage and Family Life in America

iFidelity: Interactive Technology and Relationship Faithfulness


Download: Full Report

The State of Our Unions monitors the current health of marriage and family life in America. It is a publication of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia. In 2019, this report is published jointly with the Wheatley Institute and the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

Read more in the Washington Post and National Review.

Although a clear majority of Americans in all generations express support for sexual fidelity in their relationships and report they are sexually faithful in real life, today’s young adults are markedly more likely to cross online boundaries related to sex and romance. For example, 18% of Millennial participants engaged in sexual talk online with someone besides their partner, compared to 3% of Greatest/Silent generation participants, 6% of Baby Boomers, and 16% of Gen Xers.

Many online behaviors are rated by most Americans (70% or more) as “unfaithful” or “cheating,” including having a secret emotional relationship or sexting with someone other than a partner/spouse without the partner’s/spouse’s knowledge and consent.

Married and cohabiting men and women who maintain strong boundaries online against potential sexual and romantic alternatives are more likely to be happy in their relationships. Those currently married or cohabiting who blur those boundaries are significantly less happy, less committed, and more likely to break up while, conversely, those taking a more careful stance online are happier, more committed, and less likely to separate. For example, those who did not follow a former girlfriend/boyfriend online had a 62% likelihood of reporting that they were “very happy” in their cohabiting or marital relationship. Only 46% of those who did follow an old flame online reported being very happy. The 2019 State of Our Unions report suggests that young adults who have come of age in the age of the internet are the least committed to iFidelity. Moreover, those who cross emotional and sexual boundaries online have markedly lower quality relationships. iFidelity, then, suggests that our online conduct is linked to the health of our real life relationships.

Editor: W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Editors: Jeffrey P. Dew, Betsy VanDenBerghe
Founding Co-Editors: David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead