NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Myths And Realities Of Divorce

July 19, 2000

The common wisdom is that males are more likely than women to be responsible for divorces. But the fact is that women are by far the most likely to file for divorce.

Economists Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas Allen analyzed all 46,000 divorces filed in Connecticut, Virginia, Montana and Oregon in 1995. They came up with some surprises, which they described in an article for the American Journal of Law and Economics, entitled "These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women."

  • At least two-thirds of divorce suits are filed by women.
  • In cases where divorce is not mutually desired, women are more than twice as likely to be the ones who want out of the marriage.
  • After the split, women are typically more happy than their exes.
  • In the state with the best records of grievances, Virginia, only 6 percent of divorces were granted on grounds of violence -- and husbands were cited for adultery only slightly more often than wives.

The researchers found that women are much more willing to split up because -- unlike husbands -- they typically do not fear losing custody of the children.

Brinig says she has come to believe that rewriting custody laws would help preserve marriages and protect children. In most states, mothers usually win sole custody. But in states that have made joint custody the norm, Brinig and her colleagues have noticed a decline in divorce. And when couples do divorce, fathers who share custody are less likely to renege on their child-support payments.

Source: John Tierney, "A New Look at Realities of Divorce," New York Times, July 11, 2000.


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