Since the 1970s, the share of Americans who eventually leave their marriages has hovered between 40 and 50 percent. The Relationships in America survey sample includes nearly 4,000 ever-divorced adults ages 18-60, and assessed how couples think about—then actually do—separate and divorce, as well as who wants out of their marriage more. What did we learn?
First, women are more prone than men to report discontent in marriage. Twenty percent of married women, and thirteen percent of married men, report having thought about leaving their spouse within the past year (compared to 41 percent of cohabiting women and 26 percent of cohabiting men). However, thoughts about separating—or conversations with one’s spouse or partner about it—do not signify that a relationship is over. While separated persons make up only two percent of the overall sample, 13 percent of married respondents report having talked about separating (within the past year) but so far have elected not to do so.
Across 25 data sets and over 125 years, wives are consistently more likely to file for divorce than husbands.57 These results are remarkably resistant to the time period of the data, which is surprising since economic opportunities for women have expanded dramatically—giving women more outside options—and divorce laws have been altered, typically in their favor.
In consonance with previous work on the question, the Relationships in America study reveals that women remain far more likely to want out of their marriages than men: among divorcees, 55 percent of women said they wanted their marriages to end more than their spouses while only 29 percent of men reported the same. And the gap is not due to gender differences in perception: 43 percent of men report that their spouse wanted the marriage to end more than they did, but only 20 percent of women said the same. Both men and women’s perceptions converge here—they agree that the majority of the time the wife wanted a divorce more than the husband.
57 Brinig, Margaret and Allen, Douglas. "’These Boots are Made for Walking’: Why Most Divorce Filers are Women.” American Law and Economics Review 2, no. 1 (2000): 126-169.
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