Are women less reluctant to leave a relationship than men?

by Peter Magee on April 24, 2012

Peter Magee

In a recent article, “Women now happy to walk”, Jacquie Hayes makes the argument that women are now more willing to leave relationships due to what has been a general improvement in their financial position.

In the article, published on 11 February 2012 in The Australian Financial Review, Hayes states that, “determining if women are making the break more often than men is hard to prove – formal statistics look at who eventually files for divorce, not who initiates the split”.

However, Hayes goes on to argue that there is anecdotal evidence that women go on to leave relationships more often than men and are more likely to initiate separation. The article states that some lawyers have noted that there is less of the “dependent wife operating on a fear basis” than in the past.

I personally find, again just anecdotally and based on the clients that I see, that when couples do separate, often the woman is further down the track in accepting that the relationship is over this than her male partner. I would also agree that more women than men initiate the separation.

One reason women may be ending relationships more than men, may be their improved financial independence. However, the reality is that women on average still earn less than men. Accepting that this is so, why is it that women end relationships more than men?

For various reasons, whether it is nature or nurture, women may question relationships more and perhaps discuss the difficulties they are having in relationships and confront these more than men. However, this is of course, mere speculation.

In the end though, the reality is that either partner, whether male or female, can end a relationship. While there are overall trends which may relate to culture, gender and various other sociological factors, in the end, the decision to leave one’s partner is a personal decision specific to the individual circumstances.

Traditionally, Courts have been perceived by some feminists as very un-female friendly. One reason why women may be willing to end relationships regardless of their financial position, is that it is possible to run legal proceedings in relation to the separation of a relationship, even if you are the party that has less financial resources. For example, Orders can be sought that the other party pay your legal costs on an interim basis. Also women (or men) can seek an Order for urgent interim spouse maintenance.

Also in terms of how property is finally divided, the Court is required to consider not just who contributed to the relationship financially, but also who contributed to the homemaker and parenting aspects of the relationship. Lastly, the Court considers the future needs of the parties. For women in more traditional families where the husband has acted as the breadwinner and the wife as the homemaker, this may be a great equaliser as their greater financial need relative to their male spouse will be recognised by the Court.

The above reasons may be why women are not as reluctant as might be expected to initiate separation from their partner.

That being said, I do not disagree with Hayes’ view that women leave relationships more than men because they are more financially independent than in the past. However, I do find it curious that although women are more financially independent than in the past, they still on average earn less than their male counterparts, yet are also more willing to leave relationships. This suggests there are other factors at play as to why women leave relationships more than men. Some of these may be sociological, others may also have to do with the options discussed above available to the “homemaker” party (often, but not always the female party) in Court proceedings.

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