There’s a higher chance of married women deciding to initiate divorce than their husbands, according to a new study presented to the American Sociological Association. However, researchers found that breakups of non-married cohabiting couples are initiated on a more gender-neutral basis, with each partner just as likely to end the relationship as the other.
Women Twice as Likely to Initiate Divorce
The findings were based on a survey titled “How Couples Meet and Stay Together,” which collected data from 2,262 adults in heterosexual relationships. Participants provided information about their relationship status between 2009 and 2015. Analysis of the data revealed that women initiated 69% of divorces, while men only initiated 31%. However, in cases where an unmarried man and woman lived together, each partner was equally likely to decide to break up.
The study’s lead author, Michael Rosenfeld, said his recent findings align with the results of similar studies conducted in the past. He said that almost all research to date has concluded that women are more likely to ask for a divorce. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, also commented that social scientists assumed women would be more likely to end marriages as well as non-marital relationships due to their sensitivity to the highs and lows of all relationship types.
Differing Expectations Within Marriage and Non-Marital Relationships
However, the most recent research suggests that the differing expectations of men and women within a conventional marriage versus a relationship between cohabiting partners could be at play in determining who is more likely to initiate a breakup. Rosenfeld believes the traditional nature of marital relationships may have something to do with the gender-skewed results of the study.
“I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality,” he 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.”
Comparatively, couples who cohabitate without marrying may feel less pressure to conform to conventional spousal roles – which could help explain the more gender-balanced nature of breakups of non-marital unions.
“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 … of gender equality.”