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.
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)