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Women are more likely to initiate divorce than men — but why?


Women are more likely than men to initiate divorces, according to a new survey. But why?

This may not be true for Anna Duggar, of course. But according to Stanford University Associate Professor Michael Rosenfeld, we’re more likely to pursue divorce than men. That wasn’t the same for non-marital relationships, where both sexes were equal-opportunity splitters.

His data comes from a survey conducted between 2009 and 2015 of 2,262 adults. In 2009, the group of 19- to 94-year-old people were in opposite-sex relationships. By 2015, 371 of these people had broken up or gotten divorced.

Rosenfeld found that women initiated 69 percent of all divorces, compared to 31 percent for men. However, there wasn’t a big difference in whom broke up with whom among unmarried couples — even if they were living together.

Some social scientists say women initiate most divorces because they are more sensitive to relationship difficulties but Rosenfeld disagrees; if that were true, he says, it would be the same for marital and non-marital relationships.

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And our dominance in pulling the plug on marriage seems to go back to the 1940s. “Women seem to have a predominant role in initiating divorces in the U.S.,” he said.

And he has an interesting take on why marriages just aren’t lasting.

“I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality,” Rosenfeld said. “Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

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I asked Rosenfeld about another notion that could explain his results: Are men more likely to cheat and therefore OK staying in a dull marriage, whereas unhappy women are more likely to split and then enter into another, more satisfying relationship?

He said that while infidelity is an important cause of breakups, that evidence is hard to find and it doesn’t explain why non-marital unions have a gender neutral breakup pattern.

“It is not clear exactly why women are more likely to initiate divorce,” Rosenfeld said.

Suzanne Oshima, a NYC-based matchmaker and dating coach, said men and women are both cheating nowadays. “I just find that men are less likely to move on from a marriage if they feel there will be a high amount of alimony or if they feel they will lose everything in a divorce,” she said.

Oshima said women are realizing it doesn’t have to be a life sentence if they are unhappy or dissatisfied with their marriage, 

“Today, women are much more strong and independent, both personally and professionally. Women aren’t dependent on men any more to support them financially,” she added. Women are now more financially secure than they were before and sometimes they can make more than their spouses, so it gives them the power to move on from an unhappy marriage with confidence.”

Whatever the reason for a split, divorces today don’t go along with stereotypical gender roles. In the event of divorce from cheating, it used to be that men were the culprit, but that’s not always the case.

And when it comes to our happiness, at least as the survey showed, women are not afraid to call it quits when a marriage just isn’t working. That doesn’t mean men stay silent, either. It just means that women are just as likely — if not more —to file for divorce.

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