Why Women No Longer Want to be Wives

Should a husband say: “this is my wife, Jessica” or “this is Jessica, my wife?” The debate over this question has largely become irrelevant, as it is now normal for people to say that they don’t want to get married or that they don’t know whether they do or not. In fact, studies from Pew Research Center show that one in four parents in the United States have kids outside of marriage. Considering the common knowledge that approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce, it is understandable that the thought of getting married would cause someone to fear a complicated and stressful separation in the future. Although the possible reasons are infinite, understanding why women initiate divorce more often than men may help to explain the recent avoidance of marriage in general.

According to a study conducted by Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, social scientists have proposed several theories to explain why women initiate divorce at a much higher rate than men. The primary theory is that women may be more attune to relationship difficulties and leave a partner when they believe the issues will require significant action to resolve. However, Rosenfeld argues this explanation is not sufficient according to his research as published by the American Sociological Association. Data taken from the national “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” survey from 2009 to 2015 shows that men and women initiate break-ups equally in non-marital relationships, but women initiate 69% of all divorces. Rosenfeld argues that if the sensitivity theory were true then studies would show women initiating break-ups in non-marital relationships as often as in marital relationships (being equally as dissatisfied), but his data proves this far from the case.

Another suggestion explaining why someone chooses to end a marital relationship is the power-differential theory, which states that the spouse with better prospects beyond the current relationship is more likely to file for divorce. This theory is actually counter-intuitive to the proven statistic that women initiate divorce more than men. Husbands are usually older and have traditionally higher incomes than their wives. Studies also show that single men become more attractive to others as they age, whereas single women decline in attractiveness to others as they age. Therefore, this theory suggests that men typically have the “power” in a marital relationship and better prospects following a divorce. If this theory were accurate, men should initiate the greater amount of divorces as time in a relationship passes. Some social scientists twist this theory to suggest that it is actually the lack of power to voice dissatisfaction with a marital relationship driving women to initiate more divorces. However, prior research on this failed to distinguish divorces initiated by the husband from those initiated by the wife. Although Rosenfeld does not believe the power-differential theory accurately describes why women initiate divorce at a higher rate than men, the lack of power suggestion is actually close to his proposition.

Rosenfeld advocates for the theory that the marital institution has been viewed by society as having incredibly asymmetric gender roles for so long that women now dislike the idea of marriage as a whole. The historic notion that a wife’s only purpose is to cook, clean, and take care of children may lead women to assume that their potential and value in a marital relationship is severely limited. Rosenfeld’s theory aligns with many feminists who suggest that these traditional roles still exist because heterosexual couples are especially likely to marry if the man has high earnings. Also, they call attention to the fact that women still adopt men’s surnames even though laws requiring this came to an end in the 1970’s. Regardless of your position on this controversial subject, it is not difficult to see the connection between women who believe that marriage is an oppressive institution and women who initiate divorce. This theory also helps to explain the general apprehension regarding marital commitments and the increased number of children born to unmarried couples.

These reasons women may initiate divorce much more often than men certainly do not account for every instance, but it definitely presents a challenging consideration regarding the fear of marriage. However, maintaining a healthy dose of caution when entering a marital commitment is probably smart in light of divorce statistics. It is also important to note that signing a “prenup” may help to alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding marriage. Although prenuptial agreements are often perceived to be “dooming” a marriage before it even begins, making this agreement may actually offset divorce fears and prevent stress from ruining your joyous occasion.

The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole is well-seasoned to handle divorce and other family law cases. If you have any questions or are in need of an attorney, please don’t hesitate to call us. We would love to help.

Written by Jessica Jasper, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2020, Mississippi College School of Law

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