Experiences of Divorced Women versus Divorced Men

Marital divorce can be a very painful experience for both the parties. But it can affect the genders in quite different ways. It is a well known fact that divorce rates in advanced nations are quite high compared to that of developing and under-developed nations. The United States and Europe have gained notoriety for their very high divorce rates. Divorce rates are far lesser in much of the rest of the world. But across various cultures, societies remain stratified in terms of gender, “with women having less economic, political, and social power than men. Because gender differences are constructed and reflected in daily interaction, the experience of marriage is quite different for men and women. The same is likely to be true of divorce.” (Amato, 2004, p.207) It then becomes interesting to look at how divorce affects the two genders. The following passages will argue that despite conventional notions about divorce being more traumatic for women than men, in reality both genders have an equally tough time of it, albeit in different areas.

Firstly, statistics released by U.S. Census Bureau shows that while divorce rates hovered around the 2 percent mark during the 1980s, it has shot up to more than 15 percent currently. One should remember that this statistic excludes those people who remarried again. So, if divorce were to be counted even if the current marital status has changed, then a mind-boggling 60 percent of American adults have gone through this painful event in their lives. But since in advanced societies women tend to be economically independent, they are better able to handle the period post divorce than women in the rest of the world. That women are able to handle the crisis is not to say that their standard of living does not fall. Statistics point out that the responsibility of rearing children can sap away financial resources of the woman, although the ones getting regular alimony stand a better chance of sailing through the crisis. Also, compared to recently divorced men, recently divorced women have less labor force experience, putting them at a disadvantage in availing of job opportunities. (Amato, 2004, p.207) Public support for divorced mothers are also limited, at best offering modest help for a short period of time. As a result of this condition, most divorced women think that the only sustainable solution to their problems is through remarriage, which they usually do within a few years of divorce. Of course, in the case of men, there is no noticeable decrease in their standards of living post divorce.

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Social adjustment is another area where the genders fare differently. Social acceptance of divorce is gaining ground steadily and today there is less stigma attached to the idea of divorce. But at the same time, in the period following a divorce both men and women are experiencing decreased social support and companionship. This is particularly true if they have custody of children. It is also learnt that there are common problems faced by both divorced men and women:

“Between employment, household management, and child care, single parents have little time left over for establishing and maintaining social networks. Also, divorced people often find that they have less in common with married friends. In addition, whereas married people can draw on the spouse’s family for assistance and companionship, divorced individuals typically find that former in-laws withdraw over time. Furthermore, divorced people have a high level of residential mobility which tends to disrupt relationships with neighbors, friends, and community organizations. Overall, divorced and separated individuals report smaller social networks and less social support than do married individuals.” (Amato, 2004, p.208)

There is also the important aspect of psychological adjustment post divorce. Divorce can be an emotionally upheaving event and can entail acute emotional distress. Older studies have shown that women are more psychologically affected compared to men, although there are instances of exception to this rule. Also, women are more likely to suffer from psychosomatic symptoms, mental depression, and overall unhappiness during the period of marital disruption. But they slowly and steadily regain their normal levels of happiness and wellbeing within two years of divorce. Newer studies, on the other hand, add a new dimension to the analysis, namely that of the ‘process initiator. In other words, who initiated the divorce process is also an important factor in determining psychological wellbeing post divorce. Those women who took the initiative to press for divorce, bounced back more quickly than others. Men, on the other hand, seem to have a tougher time of it, showing inadequate adjustment and increased morbidity. Moreover, since women usually win the custody of children, they find fulfilment in their parental role. And the deprivation of the same makes men prone to depression. (Sheets & Braver, 1996, p.337)

Divorce settlements are another area where the experiences of the genders differ. Since men are expected to be the breadwinners of the family and usually earn more than women, it would be intuitive to believe that they would be satistfied with divorce settlements. But contrary to this commonly-held belief, “Women indicate greater satisfaction with custody, visitation, financial (excepting child support), and property settlements. Three explanations for these results are explored. The findings suggest that it is a perceived inequitable process, rather than a perceived inequitable outcome, that most contributes to dissatisfaction with a final divorce decree.” (Sheets & Braver, 1996, p.338)

Finally, a key area where gender responses to divorce differs is mortality. Studies indicate that men’s relative mortality ratio after divorce is significantly higher than women’s. Beyond the value of such a disparity within the academic, the phenomenon is a genuine cause for concern for psychologists and marriage cousellors. (Hemstrom, 1996, p.266) Several recent studies have identified a link between marriage dissolution and mortality.

“When socioeconomic status group, labor force status, and children in the household were added to the intensity regression, the excess mortality found among those groups that had experienced marriage dissolution decreased but did not disappear. Thus, part of this excess mortality rate is due to lower socioeconomic status, low labor force participation, and fewer children in the household among those who have experienced marriage dissolution. This applies especially to men.” (Hemstrom, 1996, p.266)

People who remarried (of both genders) had a higher rate of mortality compared to those who never experienced divorce. This suggests that divorce can make an individual vulnerable to chronic health problems (some of them even terminal illnesses).

“The fact that men often become involved in the divorce process at a later stage than women might lead to a stronger reaction immediately after divorce and may result in higher rates of sick leave, increased alcohol consumption, and negative health effects. Unskilled workers are the ones most likely to lose their jobs in such situations. Similarly, divorced women who do not participate in the labor force seem to experience stress or hardships that strongly affect their survival chances.” (Hemstrom, 1996, p.266)

In conclusion, both men and women face an array of issues and transition problems in the period after divorce. While women were previously believed to be the worser affected of the two parties, greater financial independence and political emancipation had alleviated some of their problems. That women have custody of children also helps them in moving on from the trauma. And contrary to popular beliefs, men are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of divorce, especially if they are from low socio-economic background. While men gain in terms of standard of living, they also exhibit higher mortality rates as a divorcee. This further strenghens the thesis that both genders face formidable challenges in their lives as divorcees.

Bibliography:

Amato, Paul R. “The Impact of Divorce on Men and Women in India and the United States.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25.2 (2004): 207+.

Hemstrom, Orjan. “Is Marriage Dissolution Linked to Differences in Mortality Risks for Men and Women?.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58.2 (1996): 366+.

Lyons, Angela C., and Jonathan Fisher. “Gender Differences in Debt Repayment Problems after Divorce.” Journal of Consumer Affairs 40.2 (2006): 324+.

Sheets, Virgil L., and Sanford L. Braver. “Gender Differences in Satisfaction with Divorce Settlements.” Family Relations 45.3 (1996): 336+.

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