Previous research in the United States, Europe and Australia found that women are more likely to initiate divorce, but these studies did not examine what their stance was on ending non-marital relationships.
“The break-ups of non-marital heterosexual relationships in the US are quite gender-neutral and fairly egalitarian. This was a surprise because the only prior research that had been done on who wanted the break-up was research on marital divorces,” said Michael Rosenfeld, the study author and Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University.
To investigate further, Rosenfeld studied data from Stanford’s 2009-2015 How Couples Meet and Stay Together project, a nationally representative survey lead by him and his colleagues. The new study examined 2 262 adults between the ages of 19 and 64 that reported having had opposite-sex partners in 2009. Of this number, 371 reported that they’d broken up or divorced in 2015.
The study found that 69% of the divorces had been initiated by women, while break-ups had been initiated by men and women equally.
“Women’s tendency to initiate divorce was well known but the gender neutrality I found for non-marital breakups was not, because previous surveys never bothered to ask people who has wanted the break-up in non-marital relationships,” Rosenfeld said.
That distinction is relevant because social scientists tend to oversimplify the argument by saying that women are more likely to initiate a divorce because they are “women” and thus are more sensitive in their approach to relationships and find it harder to face relationship difficulties, explained Rosenfeld. The difference in results between a non-marital break-up and a divorce disprove this notion because if that were the case, the results for both types of separations would be the same.
The higher proportion of women initiating divorce may be related to previous studies that have found that women were less satisfied with the quality of their relationships than men were. Heterosexual women were found to experience marriage as stifling, oppressive and controlling.
“It supports the theory that sociologists refer to as ‘the stalled gender revolution,’ meaning that as much as women’s roles in society have changed, women’s roles within the families have changed very slowly,” Rosenfeld said.