Are women getting divorced frivolously, for no reason?
For some reason, there’s been a big uptick in social media accounts quoting two statistics:
- Women initiate 70% of divorces
- 75% of women cite lack of commitment as the reason for divorce
The commentary around this is often that women are fickle. You can’t trust them. They’re so mean to men, because they leave men for no reason.
Yesterday on the Bare Marriage podcast, Rebecca and I delved deep into this, and shared a lot of what I’m going to share today. But some people find it easier to be able to reference a print article, so I wanted to spell this out in text as well. (But you can listen to the podcast version of this here!).
When I asked recently on Facebook how the church can better support women going through divorce, one Christian marriage blogger (who seems typical of the group that I used to be a part of) posted this:
How do you judge which single mothers left because of abuse and which left because they were bored? We see 70% of divorces filed by wives, and the most common reason (75%) is “lack of commitment,” not abuse.
In those cases, I think we should be helping single dads, not rewarding the women who chose to split the family up just because it was easier than working on the marriage.
Let’s look at what he’s assuming:
- The 75% of women who claim lack of commitment are referring to THEIR OWN lack of commitment
- These women are not being abused
- These women chose to split up the family because it’s easier than working on the marriage.
That’s pretty typical of the discourse around this.
So I decided to do something radical.
Wait for it–
I decided to actually look up the study.
This took me less than a minute with Google search. And I’d like to tell you what the study ACTUALLY says.
When we dissected the problems with how Nancy Pearcey used citations for her book The Toxic War on Masculinity, one thing we said is that you should never use a newspaper clip of a study, because the newspaper story may have gotten it wrong. You need to look up the actual study.
This is an amazing case study that illustrates that, because the rhetoric around this study bears pretty much no resemblance to what the study actually found.
The study was a matched pair sample, where both spouses in a couple answered, so we’re able to compare what both spouses said.
Here’s a big takeaway: The study asked people what were the factors that led to divorce, and they could check all that applied.
Just because 75% of women chose lack of commitment, then, doesn’t mean there weren’t other reasons.
And lack of commitment encompassed lack of commitment on EITHER spouse’s part, not just their own. So the idea that 75% of women who divorce are doing so because they’re not committed is just, well, stupid. It doesn’t even pass the smell test. It doesn’t even match with common sense.
The Highlights of the Factors Leading to Divorce
Here’s what the study reports:
The next most often cited major contributing factor to divorce was infidelity, endorsed by 59.6% of individuals and by at least one partner in 88.8% of couples. Of those couples who had at least one partner report infidelity as a reason for divorce, only 31.3% represented couples in which both partners agreed that infidelity was a major contributor to the dissolution of their marriage. Thus, the majority of couples with apparent infidelity in their relationships only had one partner mention it as a contributing factor to their divorce.
So 89% of couples had infidelity present in their marriage, and around 60% said that this contributed to the divorce. Wow. Doesn’t look so much like there were frivolous reasons for the divorce now, does it?
Addictions were another major factor.
Substance abuse was reported as a major contributing factor to divorce by 34.6% of participants, and by at least one partner in 50% of couples. Of these couples, only 33.3% of partners agreed that substance abuse was a major contributing factor to divorce. Thus, similar to reports of infidelity, the majority of couples who listed substance abuse as a reason for divorce had only one partner cite this reason. Generally, participants expressed that the severity of the substance abuse problem in their relationship was either minimized over the duration of the relationship, or if attempts to address the problem were made, the partner with the substance abuse problem would not improve and/or seek help. After several attempts to address the problem, the relationship finally ended.
So substance abuse was a factor in 50% of divorces. Again, that’s HUGE.
A different meta-analysis that was conducted in 2009 found that alcohol use was maladaptive in marriage. There was speculation in the literature that people were turning to alcohol to cope with issues, and that this may actually reduce stress, but this meta-analysis confirmed that alcohol use was maladaptive. It also found that men were more likely to be substance abusers.
Then there’s the super serious one: abuse. One quarter of divorces involved domestic violence. The study reports:
Participants often expressed how the abuse in their relationship developed gradually, with intensified cycles of abuse and contrition, until the severity of the abuse intensified to insurmountable levels.
A study out of Queen’s University (my alma mater) found that women are 1.75 to 5.7 times more likely to divorce if they are abused.
And a Finish study of almost 330,000 women (with 23,000 of them divorced) found that domestic violence played a big role in divorce.
The risk of crime victimization for partner assault was already elevated from 2 to 3 years before divorce, peaked in the year prior to divorce, and then mainly leveled off 1–2 years after divorce. Hospital data show that the time of the greatest risk was from 6 to 12 months before divorce, when divorce is usually filed for. Women with younger children experienced elevated risks of physical violence shortly before divorce and remained at higher risk of menace than women without children for a year after divorce.
Women who are abused are more likely to divorce, and women who do so are also at greater risk of short-term violence, then, as are their children. Quite simply, people who spout the idea that so many women are divorcing for no reason are ignoring the life-threatening situations many women and children are in, and I find that disgusting.
This could have been easily fact-checked merely by reading the study instead of distorting stats so that they agree with what you want to believe.
This original study found that health problems factored in to 27.8% of divorces. Back in 2009, there was another ground-breaking study that looked at how gender affected divorce rates post-diagnosis of a major life-altering illness, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer.
Here’s what it concluded:
There was, however, a greater than 6-fold increase in risk after diagnosis when the affected spouse was the woman (20.8% vs 2.9%; P < .001). Female gender was found to be the strongest predictor of separation or divorce in each cohort.
Let that sink in: When women are diagnosed with a life-altering illness, one in five of them will be left by their husbands. When men are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, only 2.9% will be left.
For people to claim that women are getting divorced because of lack of commitment, when these are actually the real numbers on the ground, means people aren’t interested in truth, but in propaganda.
What’s the Final Straw Causing Divorce?
The study found other reasons for divorce as well, but it then asked people about the final straw–the thing that actually made the relationship fall apart at the end.
In this case, they were only able to choose one option (so if people were reporting on this study fairly and accurately, they would have gone with this list rather than the first that was “check all that apply.”).
And what were the three biggest reasons?
- Infidelity (24%)
- Domestic Violence (21%)
- Substance abuse (12%)
Add that up, and 57% of marriages have one of those major deal breakers. Again, these problems were present in greater numbers than the final straw numbers would suggest, but they were named as the final straw in 57% of marriages.
Who Do Couples Hold Responsible for the Divorce?
Here’s another interesting data point: The study participants were asked if each spouse should have worked harder to save the relationship. Here were the results:
“[A]t the couple level, 70.6% of couples showed a pattern in which the women believed their exhusbands should have worked harder to save their relationships while their ex-husbands did not believe they, themselves, should have worked harder. Only 11.7% agreed that the husband should have worked harder and 11.7% had the husband endorse that he should have worked harder with the wife disagreeing. Conversely, only 35.3% of couples displayed the pattern in which the men blamed their ex-wives for not working harder while their ex-wives, themselves, denied that they should have worked harder.
Only 11.7% agreed that the wife should have worked harder and 17.7% had the wife endorsed that she should have worked harder with her husband disagreeing. Further, 35.3% of couples agreed that the wife had not needed to work harder to save the marriage, while only 5.9% of couples agreed that the husband had not needed to work harder.
Thus, most participants believed their ex-partners should have worked harder, but at the couple level, there were more couples in which both partners agreed that the wife did not need to work harder than there were couples in which both partners agreed the husband did not need to work harder.
When asked who filed for the divorce, 63.5% of participants indicated that the woman filed for divorce and only 25% participants indicated that the man filed for divorce.”
Did you catch that? In the very study that people are using to claim that women divorce for frivolous reasons, couples were more likely to agree that the husband should have worked harder than they were to agree that the wife should have worked harder.
This very study found that most blame the husband for the divorce, not the wife.
Another study conducted by Avvo, a legal services firm, found this in their study of 2000 divorced people:
When asked who was responsible for the end of their marriage, 64% of divorced women blamed their spouse, as compared to just 44% of men saying the same. More men than women say both spouses should share the blame, with 42% of men agreeing, and only 29% of women saying the same. These findings are just a few examples of how gender plays a role in defining views and values attached to marriage and modern relationships.
Again, couples who divorce are more likely to say that the husband bears the greater responsibility for the relationship falling apart.
What Does Life Post-Divorce Tell Us about Reasons for Divorce?
We can also look at what happens to people after they divorce to help tease out the reasons for divorce.
That Avvo study found that:
When it comes to having second thoughts, fewer women than men express regret over being divorced: 73% of women report having no regret over being divorced while 61% of men say the same. Further, 75% of women say that’d rather be alone, successful and happy than be unhappy in a relationship overall, versus 58% of men believing the same.
When we look at how marriage affects people, we do see a gender discrepancy. If we look at physical health, mental health, and happiness outcomes, men fare better in an unhappy marriage than they do if they divorce; women, on the other hand, fare better divorced than they do in an unhappy marriage. For women, an unhappy marriage drains them and doesn’t offer benefits, but for men the same is not the case.
Thus, women are more likely to be happy post-divorce than men are, which likely also explains why women are less likely to remarry than men are.
Why Is it Women Who File for Divorce?
Quite simply, women often are the ones to file because they’re also the most vulnerable when custody issues and financial issues aren’t finalized. In marriages where the husband is abusive or addicted or unfaithful, women are overwhelmingly the ones to file. But were they the ones that actually ended the marriage? Looks like it was more likely to be his actions that did it.
If you believe you may be a victim of abuse, please contact your local Domestic Violence Hotline
- Canada: 800.799.SAFE (7233)
- United States: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
- United Kingdom: 08 08 16 89 111
- Australia: 1 800 737 732
- New Zealand: 0800 456 450
- Kenya: 0-800-720-072
- Nigeria: 0800 033 3333
- South Africa: 0800 428 428
Are College Educated Women More LIkely to File for Divorce?
Here’s the second big statistic error that I’ve seen all over social media, which again suggests that people need to study basic stats and actually look at studies.
One particular female influencer is frequently decrying higher education for women because they are so much more likely to leave their husbands–since 90% of women with college educations are the ones who initiate divorce, compared with 70% of women overall.
Here’s how one manosphere blog explained it (and I’m not going to link because I don’t want to give him traffic):
“The point of this article is to highlight the fact that, according to statistical data from sites like Wikipedia, college-educated women are more likely to initiate divorce than non-educated women….the statistics definitely show that college-educated women and career-focused women tend to dump or divorce men in higher numbers.”
Does the data show that college educated women are more likely to dump their husbands?
Nope. Not at all. It actually shows the opposite.
Here’s the data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2019, showing women’s divorce rate by level of education:
- bachelor’s degree or higher: 25.9%.
- associate’s degree: 30.1%
- some college education: 36.3%,
- high school diploma: 38.8%,
- less than a high school diploma: 45.3%
When you factor in Master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s, the divorce rate goes down even more.
The more education women have, the less likely they are to divorce.
Another study looked at women who married in the late 1970s and followed them, found that:
In sum, education appears to benefit women by both maintaining stable marriages and dissolving violent ones
So let’s make this clear:
Saying “when college-educated women divorce, 90% are likely to initiate that divorce, so women are more likely to be the ones who initiate the divorce the more education they have”
Is not the same as saying:
“College-educated women are more likely to leave their husbands.”
Do you see the difference? Overall, college educated women are the least likely to divorce. But when they DO divorce, they’re more likely to initiate.
To Sum Up: Women Aren’t Divorcing for No Reason
When people divorce, women initiate the majority of the time, yes. But 57% of the time it’s for horrific reasons, and in even more marriages than that we have infidelity, abuse, and substance abuse.
More people admit that the man is to blame than the woman.
This does not mean that women are blameless when it comes to marriage dissolution. But we need to be honest that right now, marriage is a better deal for men than it is for women, and there are systemic issues that are making marriage worse for women than for men, and are making women happier post-divorce than men.
If people are honestly interested in lowering the divorce rate, they could start examining those actual systemic reasons that marriages are ending. But if they just want women to get in line, they can keep quoting distorted stats and ignoring actual ones to try to guilt women into staying, and to exonerate men for bad behaviour.
The choice they take will reveal what their actual goals are.
What do you think? Have you seen people quoting the stat online that women divorce for no reason? Let’s talk in the comments!