The Gender Gap in Post-Divorce Satisfaction—Are women happier than men after divorce?

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Deciding to divorce is never easy. In addition to an onslaught of painful emotions – heartbreak, disappointment, loss, anger, regret, guilt, blame, and fear – the end of a marriage brings enormous logistical and financial hurdles.

Research demonstrates that, when it comes to financial fallout from divorce, women have a tougher battle.

Many factors impact a woman’s financial well-being following divorce and make their circumstances more challenging:

Women tend to have lower lifetime earnings than men. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • A persistent gender-based pay gap.
  • Many women cut back on work or leave their careers entirely to raise a family.
  • When and if they eventually return to the workforce, they often earn less.
  • Caregiving responsibilities beyond child-rearing (for example, aging parents) disproportionately fall on women.

Women’s post-divorce financial prospects are challenging in other ways, too:

  • Many women become custodial parents, juggling both work and child-rearing.
  • Household income drops much more dramatically for women following divorce— almost double the decrease that men experience (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2017 report).
  • Studies show that women’s retirement income is only 80% of their male counterparts, meaning retired women are more dependent on Social Security.
  • Women’s life expectancy is about five years greater than men’s, according to the CDC’s 2020 data—which means women are living longer on less money.
  • Women 65+ are significantly more likely to live in poverty than men in the same age group, and the rate is increased among divorced women.

Despite these challenges, statistics show that in the vast majority of cases, it’s women who initiate divorce. A 2015 study by M. Rosenfeld of Stanford University, which surveyed about 2000 couples, found that women began close to 69% of divorces. In fact, according to Rosenfeld, “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.”

There are many theories as to why this is so. According to, some of the main issues that prompt women to desire a divorce include:

  • Marriage not meeting their needs (affection/physical contact, communication, companionship, commitment, help with household work, lack of acknowledgment/valuing their work at home and or job, etc.)
  • Insufficient work-life balance
  • Husband’s infidelity
  • Spouse has substance abuse issues, addiction
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Societal pressure to marry, plus historical gender expectations within the marriage, cause dissatisfaction to grow over time. (Notably, in unmarried couples, men and women end the relationship at equal rates, suggesting that marriage itself creates the disparity.)

What happens when the marriage ends? Are women happier after divorce?

Although there have been some conflicting and controversial findings in recent years, some studies point to a distinct gender disparity in happiness after divorce—and on that front, women fare better than men.

A study by Kingston University London—in which researchers surveyed 10,000 UK residents ages 16-60 over 20 years—found that participating women reported a significant increase in contentment and satisfaction for up to 5 years after ending their marriage. Men, by contrast, were only slightly happier after divorce.

Professor Yannis Georgellis, Director of the Centre for Research in Employment, Skills and Society (CRESS) at Kingston Business School, explained: “In the study, we took into account the fact that divorce can sometimes have a negative financial impact on women, but despite that, it still makes them much happier than men. According to Georgellis, “One possible explanation could be that women who enter into an unhappy marriage feel much more liberated after divorce than their male counterparts.”

Why might women experience post-divorce life differently—and more positively—than men despite disproportionate financial challenges?

Experts focus on several factors:

  • Women are more likely to seek the professional help/therapy they need to get through and heal from the trauma of divorce.
  • Women are more likely to surround themselves with positive support networks like family and close friends.
  • Relief from gendered societal expectations may allow women to pursue personal goals and activities that help them find happiness and fulfillment outside the relationship.
  • Some women find that despite the challenges of co-parenting, the arrangement is more equitable than when they were married, affording them a better work-life balance.

 Women may have better coping strategies:

  • A focus on looking inward for healing and processing, letting go of the past, and turning attention toward the future.
  • More apt to focus on physical health (eating right, exercise) and self-care.
  • Culturally, women tend to have more freedom to express emotions and openly process loss and grief.
  • Women are less likely to turn to destructive behaviors such as substance abuse or risky sex to deal with trauma.
  • Societal expectations of what is acceptable or “masculine” may cause men to repress emotions and increase the likelihood that they’ll turn to unhealthy behaviors during trauma.
  • Men reap more benefits from marriage: studies show that marriage improves health outcomes, lifespan, and even income for men more than women.
  • A 2016 Avvo survey found that 75% of women (vs 58% of men) “Would rather be alone, successful, and happy than in a relationship where they’re not happy.”

Your Marriage—and your divorce—are unique. The skilled and caring family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate your circumstances and challenges to achieve the best possible outcome for a stable and satisfying post-divorce life.

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