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Why Women Initiate Divorce More Often Than Men

Sergey Shok

By Divorce.com staff
Updated Nov 20, 2023

Why Women Initiate Divorce More Often Than Men

Statistically, women initiate divorce more often than men in heterosexual marriages.

While divorce is associated with significant challenges, especially for women, women are still the driving force behind most marriage dissolutions.

What exactly makes women file for divorce more often than men? This article will explore various reasons connected to societal norms, gender differences, and roles influencing motivations behind divorce initiation.

Let’s dive right in.

Key Takeaweys

Who Files for Divorce More in the U.S.?

In the United States, women typically initiate divorce more often than men on average, with more than two-thirds of all divorces filed by women.

Women initiate divorce more often now than in the past because women now have more job opportunities and higher independent incomes, making getting a divorce less financially risky than it was in the past.

Divorces have become easier to get, especially after the legalization of no-fault divorces. This opens up a simple route to break free from a no longer viable marriage without having to prove legal reason for the divorce.

While men gain more benefits from marriage, such as better health, longer life expectancy, and being taken care of domestically, women don’t enjoy the same perks.Thus men are less likely to initiate divorce.

Who Files For Divorce More

What Percentage of Divorces Are Initiated by the Wife?

A study by M. Rosenfeld from Stanford University discovered that women started almost 69% of all divorces among about 2,000 surveyed couples.

However, in contrast, in unmarried relationships, there wasn’t a significant difference in whether women or men chose to end the relationship. Thus, when women get married, their level of relationship satisfaction tends to decrease significantly more than it does for men.

Men and women are similar in one important way when it comes to divorce. The number one reason for filing for divorce given by both men and women is growing apart or arguments.

According to one study, this accounts for 66% of the reasons men and women each give for divorce. This is true across the board, but it is important to understand other reasons why men and women choose divorce.

Why Are Women Unhappy in Marriages?

Some opinions suggest that marital dissatisfaction doesn’t typically happen overnight. Instead, it may stem from the emotional unreadiness of both men and women to have a dependable partnership.

Building a strong and resilient union requires emotional maturity, communication skills, and a deep understanding of each other’s needs and expectations. But most societies don’t teach people these skills. Instead, we assume that as we grow older, these abilities will form naturally.

Another reason women may be unhappy in marriage is that their relationship wasn’t satisfying enough from the start. So, why did they marry then? Social pressure is often the answer.

What Percentage of Divorces Are Initiated by Men?

Men initiate a less significant portion of divorces.

About 29 to 30% of husbands file for divorce, according to surveys. Since the remaining two-thirds of divorce filings come from women, it’s safe to say that men are more satisfied in marriages.

Marriage brings about several benefits for married men compared to their unmarried peers. In particular, marriage is linked to a range of positive health effects for men. It enhances mental health, reduces the risk of depression, and improves cognitive function.

Moreover, married men have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, better blood sugar levels, and better outcomes during hospitalization.

Married men also live 2.2 years longer than unmarried ones. Possible reasons for this may be that their wives often help them stay healthy by encouraging healthy habits and offering chances to make healthy choices.

Men who are married may eat better, visit doctors more often, and take medicine as prescribed and this may be due to the wives’ influence.

Even when both men and women have full-time jobs, women typically have more childcare and household chores responsibilities. Usually, this workload is unequally distributed, leading women to experience more significant fatigue than men.

Reasons Why Women Initiate Divorce

Unmet Needs

Men and women are wired differently to some extent and women may find that this leaves some of their expectations unmet.

Men may be less attentive to nuances and hints. They have different ways of absorbing and processing information, according to scientific research.

Women are usually socialized to be more emotionally intelligent than men and so they are more likely to perceive problems in a relationship. Women are also better communicators than men and are more likely to talk about the problems they perceive.

Because men are less likely to have the emotional intelligence to see the problems and the communication skills to talk about them, this can lead to women feeling as if their needs are not being met in the relationship.

The primary emotional and physical needs that may be neglected in a marriage and cause negativity are the following:

  • Recognizing and valuing the work done at home and a day job
  • Affection and physical contact
  • Companionship and support
  • Family commitment
  • Assisting with household duties
  • Financial support
  • Honesty and openness, etc.

Leaving these needs chronically unmet leads to growing marital dissatisfaction and eventual divorce in 64% of cases.

Deficient Life-Work Balance

Married women often juggle multiple responsibilities, such as caring for children and doing housework, while working nine to five jobs.

The percentage of women who earn as much as or substantially more than their husbands has increased nearly threefold in the last half-century. In about 29% of present-day marriages, spouses earn approximately the same income, while in 16% of them, women earn more.

The Impact of Income

Women who earn $38,000 or more than their husbands have an 8.4% chance of divorce, compared to couples where the husband earns more who have only a 2.9% chance of divorce.

One study found that the greater the gap by which a wife’s income outpaces her husband’s, the less he does around the house. Despite these facts, women are still expected to do the most domestic chores in many marriages.

This unequal division can make them feel stressed because they must balance their jobs and care for the family.

Additionally, the presence of a husband can add more housework. Research shows that divorced women with children sleep and rest more than those with a male partner. They do three hours less housework and sleep an hour longer per week.

In addition, working women trying to succeed in their careers do not always receive their husbands’ support regarding childcare and domestic chores. With these pressures, it’s unsurprising that women conclude that staying married is no longer in their best interest.

Husband’s Unfaithfulness

In a survey on reasons for divorce involving 212 women and 189 men, 35% of the women cited their husband’s affair as the primary reason for their divorce.

Typically, men are more prone to infidelity than women. Specifically, 20% of men (compared to 13% of women) reported having had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse while married.

Cheating Spouse Affect

Cheating, whether physical or emotional, is seen as one of the most significant trust breaches in a marriage. It can severely damage relationships, particularly already fragile ones, and lead to their downfall.

Also, the response to infidelity varies among couples. Some may break up over a single instance of adultery, while others experience repeated affairs before filing for divorce.

If a wife decides to withdraw from the marriage emotionally, she will likely mourn her failed relationship long before officially initiating a divorce. In such cases, no efforts of the other spouse to reconcile will have any effect.

Alcohol Addiction

According to the 2021 NSDUH report, 16.3 million men 18 years or older said they had a problem drinking too much alcohol in the past year. In comparison, 12.4 million women in the same age group experienced issues with alcohol abuse.

Research published in Clinical Psychology Review investigated the impact of alcohol addiction on marriages. The study indicated that marriages were less happy when one spouse experienced alcohol-related problems, such as excessive drinking.

In particular, stress arising from alcohol problems led to a decline in marital satisfaction.

Alcoholism harms trust in relationships and affects the standard of living for families. People with alcohol problems may lose their jobs and inflict financial issues. Alcohol abuse is also connected to accidents and injuries.

Since men are more likely to experience alcohol addiction, it makes sense that this is a common reason for a woman to seek divorce.

Physical and Emotional Violence

A survey on common reasons for divorce published in the National Library of Medicine states that 24% of divorces are caused by domestic violence. And women are the primary victims more often than men.

For every three women in the U.S., one has experienced physical violence from an intimate partner, and one in seven women has been seriously injured, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence report. In comparison, only one in twenty-five men have been hurt by a partner.

Physical and Emotional Violence

Within the context of spousal violence, there are two types: emotional and physical.

In research on domestic violence among married couples, 22% of women disclosed experiencing injuries due to physical abuse. And in 6.3% of cases, bodily harm was preceded by emotional abuse, such as verbal aggression, control, or humiliation.

Studies have found that women were 44% more likely to give abuse as the reason for divorce than men.

Better Support System

Women are more likely to have a robust support system than men, so they are more likely to talk to friends and family about their relationship and to have more help if they do divorce. They have a circle of support to help them through the transition.

This means they may feel more confident that if they choose divorce that they will be ok.

It is also worth noting that divorce is contagious. If a close friend divorces, a person’s chance of divorce goes up 75%. Women have more close friendships and divorce becomes more likely if friends are divorcing.

Fewer Regrets

Divorce plays out in two ways for women. First, despite changes in laws, women are still more likely to get primary custody after a divorce. Thus women feel more confident that they will be the primary parent after divorce.

However, women also experience detrimental economic effects from divorce, especially in the short-term when compared to men. However, their long-term well-being increases after divorce and only 27% of women report that they regret getting a divorce, compared with 39% of men.

Women may be better able to predict their long-term happiness and choose divorce when they see a better future.

Reasons Why Men Initiate Divorce

Reasons Why Women Initiate Divorce

Different Interests

If a couple grows apart, it is common for them to develop independent interests. This may be more common if a wife spends more time involved with raising children than the husband does. The husband then has more time to develop interests that do not involve the wife.

When a couple pursues different interests, they have less in common and less connection. If each spouse is pursuing their own unique hobbies and interests, there is little time for them to do things as a couple and continue to strengthen the marriage.

Lack of Respect

Criticism or nagging can be marriage killer. It holds such significant destructive potential that it was recognized as one of the predictors of a relationship ending. John Gottman metaphorically called it one of The Four Horsemen preceding divorce.

A wife’s continuous criticism may stem from her dissatisfaction with her husband for not meeting her needs, realistic or not. And since the husband can’t find any way to conform to that ideal, the criticism may become more vicious, inevitably leading to disillusionment and divorce.

Adultery

It is a widespread opinion that men have the most affairs which lead to divorce. While this is generally true, women engage in infidelity as well. As mentioned before, 13% of wives are unfaithful in their marriages.

And there is some suggestion that men may be less forgiving of adultery than women.

Conversely, women in the same situation might see emotional infidelity as more significant than physical when their partner forms a strong bond with someone else.

They may become frustrated if their partner spends time and resources on another person instead of them and their children.

Lack of Sex

Marriages start with intense love and desire for closeness, including emotional and sexual intimacy. But as time goes by, passion may fade and lead to a lack of sex for some couples.

For a husband who values physical intimacy, the issue of not having sex can be particularly distressing.

According to a 2017 study, 15.2% of men and 26.7% of women reported no sexual activity the previous year. For 8.7% of men and 17.5% of women, this pause lasted for five years or longer.

Lack of Sex

The absence of sexual activity in a marriage can trigger feelings of insecurity and anxiety, mainly when there was a higher frequency of sexual intimacy in the past years.

When a husband cannot fulfill his sexual needs, he may naturally start looking for satisfaction outside of marriage, which may lead to eventual divorce.

Mid-Life Crisis

Married men sometimes withdraw from their wives after years of a seemingly good marriage, not because their wives did something wrong but due to inner discontent with their lives.

Their marriage does not directly cause this sense of unhappiness, but men may mistakenly attribute it to relationship problems. A significant factor here is a mid-life crisis, as men may realize they don’t have time, health, and energy to fulfill their dreams or excel in their careers.

This phenomenon is more common among men (15.5%) in their 40s and early 50s, who usually focus on goals outside their personal lives. In comparison, women often have strong relationships with others, like family and friends, and thus are less likely to develop a mid-life crisis.

Bottom Line

The decision to get a divorce for women is multifaceted and can have various underlying causes. Some divorces result from years of living in an unhappy marriage and misery.

In contrast, others are driven by a desire for more independence, building a career, or finding a more suitable partner.

Both men and women give a variety of reasons for divorce, but most marriages end because the couple grows apart or argues often.

Sources:

Age at Midlife Crisis | Researchgate.net

Sociodemographic Correlates of Sexlessness Among American Adults and Associations with Self-Reported Happiness Levels | National Library of Medicine

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling | The Gottman Institute

Reported reasons for breakdown of marriage and cohabitation in Britain/Plos One

Women in failing marriages are less likely to regret divorce | Avvo

Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support | U.S. Census Bureau

Is divorce contagious? | Pew Research Center

Reasons People Give for Divorce | Institite for Family Studies

Domestic Violence in Married Couples: From the Viewpoint of Women | Research Gate

National Statistics Domestic Violence

Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention | The Nation's Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence

For better or for worse? The effects of alcohol use on marital functioning | National Library of Medicine

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States | NIAAA

Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Infidelity in America | Institite for Family Studies

Reasons for Divorce | Taylor & Francis Online

Married Women With Children and Male Partners Do More Housework Than Single Moms | PRB

Money Isn't Everything: Wives’ Earnings and Housework Time | National Library of Medicine

Husbands with Much Higher Incomes Than Their Wives Have a Lower Chance of Divorce | Institite for Family Studies

In a Growing Share of U.S. Marriages, Husbands and Wives Earn About the Same | Pew Research Center

10 Emotional Needs of Couples | Psychology Today

How Men's Brains Are Wired Differently than Women's | Scientific American

Life expectancy and active life expectancy by marital status among older U.S. adults | National Library of Medicine

Marriage and men's health | Harvard Univercity

Who Wants the Breakup? Gender and Breakup in Heterosexual Couples | Researchgate.net

Is Marriage Really Bad for Women’s Happiness? | Berkley Univercity of California

What Is A No Fault Divorce?/Forbes

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