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CEOs who cheat on spouse twice as likely to cheat at work, study shows

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Cheating on your spouse goes hand in hand with cheating in the workplace.

That's the conclusion of a provocative new academic study that found a strong correlation between adultery and workplace misconduct by corporate executives and financial advisers.

The study came about in an unlikely way. Finance professors at the University of Texas at Austin and Emory University were able to examine customers of Ashley Madison, a dating site for married people looking to have affairs, or "discreet encounters" as it puts it. That's because a computer hack in 2015 exposed the names and personal data of more than 30 million users.

Researchers examined four groups of users specifically -- a total of 11,000 brokers, corporate executives, white-collar criminals and police officers. Cross-checking against public records, they found that those Ashley Madison customers generally were more than twice as likely to have violated professional codes of conduct compared with a control group, according to authors John Griffin, Samuel Kruger and Gonzalo Maturana.

"Our study indicates cheating in one context carries over to cheating in others," said Griffin, who has a specialty investigating Wall Street misconduct. "We're not trying to debate ethics or lecture people. All we're doing is examining the data and the data is fairly strong."

The findings add to the conversation that was long considered off limits in corporate board rooms: the personal lives of executives. That was until the MeToo era, a movement against sexual harassment that has led to exits of CEOs including Les Moonves of CBS and Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts.

The results were fairly consistent across the four occupations. For example, the study found that 4.1% of individuals accused of violating securities laws by the Securities and Exchange Commission between 2010 and 2015 had paid accounts at Ashley Madison. That compared to 1% of the control population, which consisted of people with similar work histories but no misconduct charges.

CEOs and CFOs who had accounts were twice as likely to have engaged in a financial misstatement or be the focus of a class action securities lawsuit between 2008 and 2014. Cheating brokers were more likely than the control group to have black marks on their records maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

The professors encountered a few research hurdles, including ethical questions about using Ashley Madison data in the first place. They concluded it was in the public domain. Also, the site, whose slogan is "Life is Short. Have an Affair," had some fake users. So Griffin and his co-authors narrowed their study to customers who had matching addresses from credit card numbers. There's also the unknown of whether members of the control group engaged in marital infidelity outside of Ashley Madison.

But Griffin is confident in the findings, to be published next week in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"If you're foolish to put your name into such a site, you're foolish enough to make other mistakes," said Davia Temin, founder of crisis consultancy Temin & Co. in New York.

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