Marriage Experts Explain Why Women Initiate Divorce More Than Men
Experts cite the reasons women initiate divorce, which reflect a big shift in how women view marriage, too.
Traditional gender stereotypes would have you believe that women are the ones who are more eager to settle down and get married. But according to the data, there's another surprising element of marriage that women are more likely to initiate, too: divorce. Yes, study after study has proven that women initiate divorce far more than men do these days. According to 2015 research from the American Sociological Association (ASA), women initiate almost 70 percent of divorces.
The idea that women are the first to settle down and the first to split up may seem confounding to many. So we talked to a marriage therapist, a clinical psychologist, and a divorce mediator to find out why women initiate divorce more often than men and what that says about gender roles in today's day and age. What we found is that it all boils down to three main factors.
Women are more likely to feel like marriage is holding them back.
Women today are working more than they have ever been. In fact, Dec. 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that women now make up just over half of the workforce. But that doesn't mean that their domestic duties have decreased. "I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality," Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University who authored the ASA study, said in a statement. "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."
Research has consistently shown that women still do more housework than men, even if both parties work full-time jobs. For example, a 2019 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 49 percent of women did housework on a daily basis, versus only 20 percent of men, even if they were both employed. That indicates that there's still a lack of equality regarding domestic labor within the average American household, and it's a gap that might make marriage seem less advantageous for a woman who is career-oriented.
"If the wife makes more money but is still expected to do more of the housework and childcare, what's the point?" asks Anita A. Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love.
On top of that, some women are in the difficult situation of not being supported by their husbands when they find success in the workplace. One 2019 study of over 6,000 American heterosexual couples published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin even found that many men experienced "psychological distress" if their wives began to make more money than them throughout the course of their marriage.
If a woman feels like her husband is threatened by her success or is holding her back from professional advancement, and feels pressure to take on the bulk of the household and childrearing responsibilities on top of that, she may want out of her marriage.
Women tend to do more emotional labor in a marriage.
One of the biggest issues married couples face is a lack of healthy communication, and, oftentimes, this stems from yet another imbalance. Traditionally, men aren't taught how to process or communicate their emotions, and that means women tend to take on the emotional labor of the marriage, too.
"Many men rely on their wives as their sole provider of emotional support, whereas women receive emotional support from a variety of places. This might make men more reluctant to leave their sole source of support," says Tricia Wolanin, a licensed clinical psychologist at Unfold Your Bliss. "Women are more open to processing their emotions with friends, whereas men seem to find it difficult to fully open up with other peers about their struggles, and are therefore more likely to just follow the status quo."
Women are less likely to tolerate "bad behavior" today.
Not too long ago, women felt like there were certain issues that they were just going to have to turn a blind eye to in exchange for financial security. Now? Not so much.
"Today's modern woman is more unlikely to put up with infidelity," says Dori Schwartz, a divorce mediator and coach at divorceharmony.com. "Once the honeymoon period is over, some men drastically change their behavior from romantic to controlling and emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this happens in many marriages, and women don't want to take it anymore."
If you think this gender imbalance only applies to heterosexual relationships, think again. Same-sex marriage has only been legal in the U.K. since 2014, but a 2017 report from the country's Office for National Statistics found that 78 percent of same-sex marriages that ended in divorce were between two women, indicating that women today might have higher expectations for marriage than men in general.
Rosenfeld agrees that the simple truth might just be that women feel like they aren't getting what they were promised in their vows at their wedding. "The expectation is that marriage has a whole bunch of benefits and positive characteristics for women that it didn't have in the past," he told The Washington Post in 2015. "But the truth is much trickier than that."