Who initiates divorce the most? Men or women?

Pop quiz. Who initiates divorces and break-ups? Men or women?

The answer is women. Women are more likely than men to initiate a break-up.

First, men are less likely than women to initiate break-ups (Hegelson, 1994; Hill, Rubin, and Peplau, 1976), and noninitiators of a break-up are more likely than initiators to experience distress (Sprecher, Felmlee, Metts, Fehr, & Vanni, 1998).
Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (pg. 297)

But what’s the effect size, I can hear you shout. I don’t know because both papers are paywalled.

Which sex suffers more from a breakup? Men or women?

Exploratory data analyses revealed that women more than men reported experiencing negative emotions after a breakup, particularly feeling sad, confused, and scared.
Breaking up Romantic Relationships: Costs Experienced and Coping Strategies Deployed

But not so fast! From the same paper:

Previous research using various inventories of emotions suggests that women experience more positive valence emotions and less initial distress following a breakup than men (Choo, Levine, and Hatfield, 1996; Hill et al., 1976; Sprecher, 1994; Sprecher et al., 1998).

If I want to abuse the evo-psych habit of fabricating just-so stories, I can reason:

  • Women suffer more because it’s harder for them to find a committed man than vice versa.
  • Men suffer more during a break-up to signal emotional involvement plus commitment which, ideally, halts the process. (“All this pain proves I love you! Don’t leave me.”) Thus their distress is greater and it’s all part of evolution’s depraved plan.

Symmetrical to that second point, I’d expect women to escalate sexual commitment if their long-term partner starts sending I’m-thinking-about-leaving-you vibrations.

Buss anticipates my second point and writes:

Because women value emotional commitment so highly in their mates, men may deploy a counter-strategy to exploit this desire: he may attempt to maintain sexual access to a woman by signaling an increase in his emotional investment to her. In the modern world, men can accomplish this by suggesting they become exclusive to one another, cohabit, obtain a mutual pet, get married, or have children.

How romantic! Thanks evolution.

Right, but as I was going to say — before being distracted by Buss and Perilloux’s paper — this first result makes a lot of sense if you already know that women initiate 70% of all divorces. So it’s nice to see that this trend isn’t some strange artifact of marriage and holds for romantic relationships generally.

Last fun thing. If you dump a woman, yeah, she’s gon’ be mad:

Davis et al. (2003) found that women who did not initiate the break-up reported more anger, hostility, and violence directed at their partner than did men.
Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 2 (pg. 297)

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