It is a well-established fact that when it comes to divorce, one sex is responsible for initiating the overwhelming percentage of the cases filed. While the decision to divorce is hard, there’s a clear pattern that women file a statistically high proportion of divorce cases. The trend of women filing most divorces is true in other Western countries as well.
Calling it quits
The most recent U.S. data show roughly two thirds of divorces are filed by women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number is actually closer to 80%
This trend is not only true in the U.S., but in Europe too. And, as the BBC recently reported, the Office of National Statistics showed women petitioned for 62% of divorces in England and Wales in 2019.
In some Western countries, divorce is becoming easier. In the U.S., no-fault divorce ushered in a period of increased divorce filings. In the UK, which recently legalized no-fault divorces, couples can have a quicker break up. Some anticipate the UK’s change in the law could lead to more women – who might have been hesitant before – to file for divorce.
But why do women disproportionately file for divorce in the first place?
Florida No Fault Divorce
I’ve written about divorce statistics, and especially no fault divorces, before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.
Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.
The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.
There is also a residency requirement in Florida. Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.
Why Women Divorce
In many societies, divorce has been a relatively recent phenomenon. In the UK, divorce was extremely uncommon before 1914, with just one divorce in every 450 marriages in the first decade of the 20th Century. Now, more than 100,000 couples in the UK get divorced every year, and in the US, around half of marriages end in divorce.
Research is showing a few theories as to why women were more likely than men to file for divorce. Heidi Kar, a psychologist and expert on domestic violence at the US-based Education Development Center, explains, it’s no coincidence that the rise of divorce has coincided with women’s liberation.
“Because economic independence is an imperative before a woman can attempt to leave a marriage, either alone or with children to support, it’s extremely difficult for women to leave a marriage unless they have some way to make money on their own,” she says. “Also, because gender roles become more complicated as women start to gain financial independence, more marital conflict naturally arises.”
For many women, the expectations they have when they enter marriage may fail to match up to reality. Experts say that they often have a higher expectation of how a partner will meet their emotional needs than men, which can lead to disappointment post-wedding.
Some have argued that heterosexual marriage is not only gendered, but fundamentally asymmetric and inegalitarian as well. Jessie Bernard famously wrote: “There are two marriages, then, in every marital union, his and hers. And his…is better than hers.”
The feminist critique of heterosexual marriage may have less direct application to nonmarital heterosexual relationships. Nonmarital heterosexual relationships generally involve lower levels of commitment, fewer children, and nonmarital unions are less influenced by the legal and cultural history of marriage as a gendered institution.
Women also tend to have more close friends than men, meaning they have a better support system both to discuss any marital issues as well as to ease the transition back into single life. It’s also possible these friendships make divorce seem like a more plausible option – research suggests that if a close friend gets divorced, people’s own chances of divorcing rise by 75%.
Of course, filing for divorce isn’t the same as ending a marriage. While research shows women in heterosexual marriages are more likely to initiate the break-up, there are also women who didn’t choose to end their relationship, but want or need to formalize the split nonetheless.
The BBC article is here.