- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

Women older than 40 ask for divorces more often than men, according to a survey published yesterday by the AARP.

Of those surveyed, 66 percent of women initiated the end of their marriage, and 41 percent of men said they asked their spouse for a divorce.

Titled “The Divorce Experience: A Study at Midlife and Beyond,” the survey published in AARP’s Magazine also revealed that more men than women were surprised when their spouse wanted to split. Twenty-six percent of men and 14 percent of women said they were caught off guard.

“We have this stereotype that men at midlife may be looking for a younger woman or cheat,” magazine editor Steve Slon said.

Despite this myth, nearly three-fourths of all marriages are ended by women, said Howard Markman, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies and professor of psychology at the University of Denver.

“I think it is because historically women are spokesmen for the marriage,” Mr. Markman said.“They see it as a last resort.”

Mr. Slon said the magazine conducted the survey to learn how people at midlife handle divorce.

The magazine surveyed 1,147 persons ages 40 to 79 nationwide through the Internet. Although some had remarried, all participants had divorced in their 40s, 50s or 60s.

Mr. Slon said he suspects that the results are based on the changing role of women in society. For the generation surveyed, it has become normal for women to be independent.

The study also found that more women started contemplating divorce well before taking action. Compared with 21 percent of men, about one out of three women who divorced after 50 considered splitting up at least two years in advance.

Some women took much longer to reach a decision. For about one in 10, it took 10 years or more to decide on divorce, especially for women older than 60.

“This is a very sad statistic,” Mr. Markman said. “The stress and unhappiness exist for a very long time, and most people don’t get the help they need.”

He recommended that couples seek counseling at the first signs of marital strain. Couples could prevent their marriages from “dying with the help of a marriage educator,” he said.

After the end of their marriages, few of those surveyed gave up on romantic relationships altogether. Eighty percent of men and 75 percent of women in their 50s had been involved in serious relationships after their divorces.

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