Austerity Drives Spain to Adultery

Spanish divorce
Demonstrators wave flags of the Second Spanish Republic as they encourage recently married couple, to give each other a kiss. Six out of 10 marriages in Spain end in divorce. Jon Nazca/REUTERS

The eurozone's economic crisis is driving Spaniards who can't afford expensive divorces to have affairs outside marriage, according to an extramarital dating website.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison – which hopes to float later this year on the London Stock Exchange – says that some 1.3 million Spaniards have signed up to the website in the past five years.

"In hard economic times we haven't just been a recession-proof business, we've been a recession-growth business," says Biderman .

Spain currently has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe, with 61 out of every 100 Spanish marriages ending in divorce. Madrid and Barcelona are the cheating hotspots, accounting respectively for 12.9% and 8.5% of the website's national membership.

Two-thirds of Ashley Madison's male and female Spanish users are aged between 30 and 50, while three-quarters fall into middle-income brackets of those earning €23,000-€70,000 per annum.

Canadian Biderman also says that his company is looking to break into the Islamic world, where he thinks that his website could protect people who would otherwise face execution for adultery.

In Turkey, Ashley Madison has almost 19,000 members, while Biderman claims that 35,000 people in Saudi Arabia attempt to access the site each month.

"In countries where people are put in danger by having affairs, we offer them a more secret and secure way of doing it that hopefully will preserve their freedom," says Biderman.

Biderman is estimated to have amassed a net worth of $100m since founding the Toronto-based company in 2001. In addition to its clients in Spain, Ashley Madison has 1.1 million registered users in the UK, while Italy, Germany and France all have between 600,000-700,000 members. Worldwide, the company claims to have 34 million members in 46 countries.

Biderman says Ashley Madison has received a much more positive reaction from European investors than from those in North America.

"When it comes to things like nudity and sexuality, the Europeans have always been much further ahead than the North Americans," he says. "The Europeans are very respectful of the fact I have built a global business."

Last week, Biderman announced that he will float Ashley Madison on the London Stock Exchange later this year.

Carlos Cremades, vice-president of the Madrid-based civil association, Spanish Family Forum, says websites such as Ashley Madison trivialise marriage and can be damaging to children.

"It's something to be deeply worried about. Not only are you hurting the relationship with your partner but more importantly with your children," says Cremades.

While rejecting calls for government blocks on advertising by extramarital dating websites, Cremades says marriage should be viewed akin to an employment contract, which people should not be encouraged to break.

"Marriage is a relationship of love, but it's also a contract," he says.