image edited by Web Investigator
Women love four things, according to hack comedians and romantic comedies: chocolate, shopping, like it’s their job, and marriage. On that last count, we’re told, love rises to the level of obsession: women long to be brides their whole lives and then cling to their marriages when they become wives. But new studies suggest women are less happy in mediocre heterosexual marriages, more likely to call things off and more content with post-divorce life than men. Taken together, the findings debunk a lot of long-held—and outdated—gendered ideas about one of our oldest institutions.
Women and men are equally likely to end non-married intimate relationships, including when the couple lives together. That all changes once vows are exchanged. A 2015 study involving more than 2,000 heterosexual married couples aged 19 to 94 found that women initiate divorce in nearly 70 percent of marriages. Researchers theorize this might be a result of gender norms that make heterosexual marriage an unequal partnership, with women getting the short end of the stick. We know that married couples divide housework evenly until they have a child, after which the woman takes on the bulk of childcare and housework loads shift disproportionately to her.
Marriage does a better job for men of improving health outcomes, decreasing chronic illnesses and extending life spans, than it does for women. Married men make more money than their unmarried male counterparts, but there’s no such income bump for married women. In fact, researchers note that post-marriage, women’s “earnings and careers are thought to suffer.” This might contribute to the reasons why, as study author Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University told Science Daily, “Women seem to have a predominant role in initiating divorces in the U.S. as far back as there is data from a variety of sources, back to the 1940s.”
“I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality,” Rosenfeld added. “Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”
According to Rosenfeld, this incongruity between women’s wants and expectations, versus the realities they often encounter in marriage, leaves them discontent and more likely to opt out. He says this dissatisfaction with gender roles in marriage “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.” Traditionalists would blame feminism for this, and they’re actually right—except for the misguided idea that women wanting more is a bad thing. Don’t worry, traditionalists! Women still carry an unequal share of the psychic, emotional and household physical labor of marriages; they’re just a lot less cool with it than they used to be.
“Women have a much higher bar now as to what it takes to stay in a relationship,” University of Washington sociologist and sexologist Pepper Schwartz told The Stir, a parenting blog. “The tone of relationship trumps marriage.”
Despite all this, there’s an enduring popular image of divorced women as bitter and jaded, while divorced men are portrayed as all too happy to break free. But this again proves wrong when put to the test. According to an online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults by Avvo, a legal research company, 75 percent of divorced women report having no regrets over the decision to part, whereas just 61 percent of divorced men say the same. Women are also much more likely to find dividends in blissful singledom than bummed-out wedlock. “Seventy-five percent of women say they’d rather be alone, successful and happy than be unhappy in a relationship overall, versus 58 percent of men believing the same,” the researchers write…