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Study confirms: Women more likely to initiate divorce. But why?

Marriage and child rearing are age-old institutions. Because of this, most of the “common knowledge” we take for granted about getting married and having kids is a mix of anecdotal observation and folklore. It has only been in the past half-century that social scientists have started to study family relationship data across entire populations.

Sometimes, these studies confirm what has long been observed anecdotally. Other times, data dispels common myths. In still other cases, we see a correlation between factors but cannot prove causation. One recent study seems to confirm a commonly held belief while debunking an explanation for it.

Many have observed that the decision to divorce is often one-sided, and that women are most often the ones who initiate divorce. One theoretical explanation was that women tend to be more attuned to relationship difficulties, so they’d be quicker to notice that the relationship was in trouble.

According to a recently published study, the first part is true. A researcher at Stanford analyzed longitudinal data on more than 2,200 adults, specifically looking at their relationships over time. He found that among heterosexual married couples who got divorced, the divorce was initiated by the woman 69 percent of the time. Men initiated just 31 percent of the time.

So are women just more attuned to relationship troubles? According to the study, that theory is not supported by data. When looking at breakups among unmarried couples, the data show that men and women were equally likely to initiate the breakup. Why women are more likely to initiate divorce therefore remains a mystery and a matter of speculation.

The good news is that, from a legal perspective, it doesn’t much matter which spouse initiates the divorce. The important factor for anyone facing such a situation is to find an experienced family law attorney who will always advocate for their best interests.