As we look for insight on why women are often the ones seeking to dissolve a marriage let’s begin with the data. Numerous studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women? – this is according to a 2015 research study conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) which suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. Among college-educated women, this number jumps up to 90%.
What are the gender differences in how men and women appraise the health of their marriage? Do women have a higher standard in appraising the health of their marriage?
My research revealed three possible factors why women initiate divorce:
1 – Women are more likely to feel held back by the marriage.
The fact is that today, women are working more than they ever have and make up a little over half of the workforce in the United States. However, in many marriages women are still seen as primarily responsible for domestic duties. Despite having more on their plates with their careers.
Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and author of the ASA study stated, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. 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.”
What’s more is that other studies have shown that when both parties in a marriage are employed full-time, the woman in the relationship still does more housework than men in the relationship.
A 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that on an average day in 2018, 20 percent of men did housework—such as cleaning or laundry—compared with 49 percent of women. What this tells us is that there is inequality in the average household when it comes to domestic duties and labor among men and women. For married parties who have at least similar responsibilities from a full-time career, it is still women who are doing more of the work around the home as well.
In addition, women often find that their husbands are not supportive when they are highly successful in their careers. In a 2019 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which included over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years, many men experienced “psychological distress” if their wives made more than 40% of the household income in a marriage.
So if a woman has high expectations and responsibilities from her career, high expectations and responsibilities at home, and does not have support from her husband on career advancement, she may not find the marriage to be in her best interest anymore.
2 – Women often take on more of the emotional burden.
Communication is key in any marriage, but often an area where many couples struggle. Generally, men are not sufficiently taught how they can communicate and process emotions. As a result, women in marriages find they often will take on more of the emotional responsibilities. In some cases, this may include being the sole emotional support system for the entire family. Over time, this does take a toll on a person – mentally, physically and certainly emotionally. Without emotional support from husbands, wives are often left feeling alone and without a source of support within the marriage.
3 – Women no longer tolerate consistent unacceptable behavior.
At a point in history, women did not work as much as today. Because of this, wives would rely more so on their husbands for financial security. Even at the expense of abusive and negligent behavior. Today, this is not the case as much. As a result, women are not willing to put up with consistent unacceptable behavior from their husbands for financial security. This is especially relevant for college educated women with career choices.
Dori Schwartz, a divorce mediator and coach says, “Today’s modern woman is more unlikely to put up with infidelity. 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.”
It certainly appears that many men are asleep in their marriages. This would explain why the many disappointments and discontent that women are experiencing in marriage are ignored or trivialized by their husbands. Is it reasonable to hypothesize that being asleep is really the fact that men accept a mediocre relationship as normal and are men more likely to view a divorce as a failure rather than an ending? This explanation might let some men off the hook but the reality is that men need to be paying closer attention to the health of their marriages and be willing to take steps to keep a marriage alive and thriving.