January 14, 2014

French more accepting of infidelity than people in other countries

French president Francois Hollande gives a press conference on Jan. 14, 2014 at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris to present his policy plans for the upcoming year. (Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
French president Francois Hollande gives a press conference on Jan. 14, 2014 at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris to present his policy plans for the upcoming year. (Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Francois Hollande may have hoped his first press conference of 2014 would offer an opportunity to discuss his agenda and boost his sagging political fortunes, but when he faced reporters today he confronted questions about his personal life – specifically his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet. Dealing with accusations of marital infidelity is something no politician wants to do, but as the leader of France, Hollande is perhaps in a better position than most. Compared with others around the world, the French are blasé about marital indiscretions.

FT_Hollande_AffairsThis is not the first time a French president has been in the spotlight for having an affair. Francois Mitterrand, who was married, had a long-running affair with a woman who showed up at his funeral with the daughter that he fathered. In 1899, President Felix Faure died in the Elysee Palace in the arms of his mistress. Napoleon, an emperor not a president, was unfaithful to his wife Josephine, engaging in a long line of mistresses.

Hollande is not married, but he has an “official partner,” Valerie Trierweiler, who lives with him at the Elysee Palace and is referred to as France’s First Lady.

Just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, the lowest percentage among 39 nations surveyed in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. In fact, France was the only country where less than 50% of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable. Instead, four-in-ten think it is not a moral issue, while 12% say it is actually morally acceptable. And there is essentially no gender gap on this issue, with 45% of French men and 50% of women saying affairs are unacceptable.

Across the countries polled, a median of 79% consider infidelity unacceptable, including an overwhelming 84% of Americans. This belief is especially widespread in predominantly Muslim nations – nine-in-ten or more hold this view in the Palestinian territories, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Tunisia.

But even among France’s Western European neighbors, most think affairs are morally wrong, including six-in-ten or more in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Britain.

When it comes to the specific case of Hollande, a survey by the French Institute of Public Opinion, conducted Jan. 10-11, found that 77% of the French considered it a private affair that concerned only the president, while 23% said it was a matter of public concern.

Note: This data will be published in a forthcoming report that looks at global attitudes towards morality more broadly. The topline for this data can be found here.

Topics: Western Europe

  1. Photo of Richard Wike

    is director of global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.


  1. joltinjoe2 years ago

    Comparing American morals, mores, and just about everything else with other indigenous countries is always misleading. We are such an admixture of peoples from all around the globe that make us unique and not comparable with any other country. Our percentages of groups changes constantly so the end result of making surveys is a blur.

  2. Un monde ouvert2 years ago

    I find it strange that no-one’s mentioned that ‘extra – marital sex’ does not necessarily equqte to cheating. I think that cheating without your partner’s consent could absolutely be considered morally questionable (though perhaps not the worst thing you could do to someone), however if you’re operating within an open relationship where all parties are honest, consenting and respectful, then there really is no problem whatsoever.

    1. Robert2 years ago

      Indeed. Not all extra-marital affairs are cheating. Cheating is defined by the internal politics of the marriage and is only up for judgement by the people directly involved – especially not uninvolved busybodies who aren’t part of, and aren’t contributing to the marriage.

  3. Sally Edelstein4 years ago

    Some vintage advice made especially for cheating spouses was offered in a book called “Mister and Mistress: A Guide to the Etiquette of Off the Record Romance” giving the mid century reader tips on the etiquette of straying, or as they suggested “Knowing how to do the wrong thing the right way!” wp.me/p2qifI-22D

  4. Len Simpson4 years ago

    Where are the Scandinavian countries in the study?

  5. Ashley4 years ago

    Other studies show the French are unfaithful to their spouses at lower rates than Americans. In combination, what the study reveals is a more honest and adult formation of conscience. It is instructive that the US is closely aligned with less economically developed and often publically and religiously puritanical Islamic states on these issues, and we can postulate that this is for the same reasons: a hypocritical need to maintain a public moral purtainism combined with licenscious personal practices. …Bill Clinton affair, anyone?

    1. Marvin4 years ago

      Excellent analysis – that is the crux of the issue.

    2. niccolom2 years ago

      I agree with the hypocritical part of your observation but infidelity where dishonesty is concerned, should be judged harshly as it does inflict suffering and is an act of betrayal. That isn’t necessairly puritanically related. Polyamorous consents of course are another matter.

  6. Aygun4 years ago

    Well, in Azerbaijan (Caucasus), Infidelity is totally unacceptable for a woman ending with divorce and shame on her family; But if it is a man, it is OK, A woman still tolerates for the sake of her children, knowing her husband is having an affair with another woman. It would be interesting, what the results would be here!!

    1. Joanne M2 years ago

      Are you a man writing that, sounds ridiculous, if my husband was having an affair and I was forced to be married to him I would also have an affair

  7. Paul4 years ago

    I noticed Vietnam is not on the list. The Vietnamese are most forgiving of infidelity of any country I’ve ever been to. Pretty much everyone has a back pocket relationship. You’re viewed as successful if you can have and provide for multiple girlfriends. And women are viewed as secretive and mysterious if they have someone they’re sleeping with on the side.

    1. yiny3 years ago

      And its interesting to consider the Vietnamese connection to France- is there a correlation?

  8. Mrs Grant4 years ago

    What is the percent saying married affairs are UNACCEPTABLE in:


  9. JLS4 years ago

    “This belief is especially widespread in predominantly Muslim nations”
    Senegal ranks 8th in acceptability (32%) despite being a 95% muslim country…

  10. Sylvain4 years ago

    Thank you very much for this very interesting research Pew !

    As a French people, I don’t believe that “we” are more unfaithful than other peoples :
    I think that, thanks to a long tradition of XVIIIth century philosophers (“Les lumières”), we are more realistic and less hypocrite…

    During the Clinton/Lewinsky “scandal”, there was a huge consensus in France to think that it was a private affair (between Mr, Mrs, and Ms) and that the REAL scandal was to force a man (and especially a President !) to give details on his sexual life to a voyeur public.

    See how alcohol is appreciated in many Islamic countries, as far as you take it discreetly…
    The comment of Jorge Ramos concerning El Salvador goes to the same direction…

    1. NiccoloM2 years ago

      You say amanand esp a president. Such class distinctions should not be made. He should bot have been coerced or impeached but he did put himself ina position of public scrutiny.

  11. Jorge Ramos4 years ago

    Congratulations for an interesting study.

    I would add, however, that there may be a wide gulf between what people say is unacceptable behavior, and how they actually act in real situations.

    I can speak with some propriety regarding this matter in one of the countries listed, El Salvador, where I live.

    Although your respondents indicated that infidelity is unacceptable for 89%, the reality is that it is extremely commonplace here – I wish it were possible to throw out a number, but it certainly has been a reality for over half of couples here.

    Infidelity, when discovered, may convert a home into a battlefield for a time, but it is infrequently a cause for permanent separation, and that usually only for the upper class (a small percentage of the total population).

    So while 89% of your sample expressed to you that infidelity is unacceptable (in principle), I would submit that most of the population tolerates it (in reality). Best wishes from El Salvador.

  12. Mike Dinorawr4 years ago

    Vive la France!

  13. buster stronghart4 years ago

    I’d like to the poll divided by gender and age groups.

  14. buster stronghart4 years ago

    The French make great wine and great love. Their attitude is a century ahead of us.

    1. slk4 years ago

      until your girlfriend/wife starts to explore!!!

      1. TXSFRED4 years ago

        Still goes back to honor… doesn’t it. Once I noticed the latin words and their meaning on our Church’s windows had all changed in form except one – Honor.


  15. David Eisenberg4 years ago

    As with many questions, how you phrase it is important. “Morally unacceptable” is okay, but I think the words “in general, bad” or “in general, wrong” would be better. It might not mean much, but I would not be surprised if it knocked most country’s numbers up a few points. Everyone I know in America thinks adultery is generally “wrong,” and that includes people who are not faithful. However, many people I have discussed it with think there are exceptions. Some people who said “no” might have said “yes,” if that change was made. Is it important? I don’t know, but I bet it would have put France in the majority column.

  16. Orkhan Jalilli4 years ago

    Of course, it is the matter of Francois Hollande! It only relates to him, his wife, and Julie Gayet, in first place. In second place, only the people who they (Hollande, his wife, Gayet) decide it is related.

  17. Ronald C Walker4 years ago

    The enactment of laws might reasonably be regarded as the official formulation of a nation’s views on moral issues; they address two questions: “Is this behaviour acceptable?” and “Is it of any importance?” Many European politicians regard the need for urgent political integration across Europe as a defence of the Euro.

    As this research shows… There IS no Europe-wide consensus on even something as basic as marital fidelity – or anything else! Thus attempting to pass laws that reflect some presumed pan-European morality is doomed to failure.

    1. joltinjoe2 years ago

      I agree. The language barriers within Europe will have to be overcome before “unity” can be achieved. That is also why America should require its citizens to speak, write, and understand English. It is divisive to do otherwise.

  18. CB4 years ago

    The French are more accepting of infidelity than people in other countries, according to Pew researchers.

    The same researchers have also revealed… that water is wet.