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Over in the comments section of a Mangan post about the possible direct health and happiness benefits of marriage, The Anti-Gnostic writes (replying to another commenter),

The biggest upside for men of marriage over cohabitation is that breaking up is harder in a legally recognized union. Since most breakups/divorces are initiated by women, making it harder to separate benefits men more than women.

I’m going to venture a hypothesis that most break-ups of cohabitation arrangements are initiated by men, and most marriage break-ups are initiated by women.

Divorce itself is not hard. You file a paper that says the marriage is over. Women will get the children, because the man will have a harder job with longer hours, and most households don’t have enough net worth to fight over.

I’m not sure how you came to your conclusion.

CH is on record stating that the incentive structure of marriage has changed to favor women’s discretion. That is, wives are now incentivized to divorce by the alimony retirement plan racket, the anti-male divorce industrial complex, and the practical guarantee of child custody. The data — especially the “wives initiate 70% of divorces” figure — strongly suggest that the CH view is the correct one.

But constitutional white knights — you know who you are — claim that figure could just as easily mean that 70% of husbands are shitty spouses. Well, maybe. But that interpretation is no less speculative than the opposite, and in fact is less sustainable under scrutiny, because the simpler explanation for the 70% female divorce-initiation figure is that men and women are about equally represented among the crappy spouse demographic, but women initiate more divorces because they perceive that a host of benefits will accrue to them from severing their marriages. Husbands, in contrast, perceive no such benefits, and are thus more loathe to divorce even when their wives are insufferable.

One way to test this hypothesis, as The Anti-Gnostic implied above, is to look at which sex initiates more non-marital break-ups. If men really are crappier partners than women, then the break-up initiation rate will be roughly the same inside and outside of marriage. The break-up initiation rate should skew approximately 70% in favor of women in whatever form of relationship they’re in. The premise behind this assumption is that a person’s romantic character or “livability” traits are fairly constant throughout life.

Using the variable FAMPER3 (“During the last year, did you… 3. Break up with a steady boyfriend/girlfriend or fiance?”) from the General Social Survey (GSS) dataset, we find that men broke up their non-marital relationships almost twice as often as did women.


Surveys about people’s sex lives are distinctly untrustworthy, but the GSS does give us a peak behind the curtain at trends in relationship dynamics. As claimed here at the venerable Chateau, it would appear that women have more to lose from breaking up non-marital long-term relationships and more to gain from breaking up their marriages, (and vice versa for men.) This makes sense to any astute observers of the sexual and marital markets; women are on their best behavior prior to marriage, before they’ve gotten a boyfriend or fiancé to sign on the dotted line and tacitly forfeit HALF. A woman’s peak attractiveness window is much shorter relative to a man’s attractiveness window, and this incentivizes women to make nonmarital relationships work until such time that money has changed hands and kids have popped out.

Men, on the other hand, have a lot more to lose in divorce, and a lot less to lose in nonmarital breakups, and this male-peculiar incentive structure is seen in the differing rates of breakup initiations by sex in and out of marriage.

To put it in Heartistian terms…

Maxim #30: Men can leverage their commitment far longer than women can leverage their sex.

Skeptics may note that the GSS question as posed doesn’t specifically ask who initiated the breakup, but the wording strongly implies it. (Perhaps a Master GaSSer could fine tune the data at his pleasure?) But the very fact that there is a sex difference in breakup rates between nonmarital relationships and marriages is ample evidence that social and legal incentives can influence the motivations of men and women.

The substantiating evidence so far, in surveys and in the field, is that women are more responsible for the rise in divorce, and that their self-justification for divorce has gotten more fickle and more self-aggrandizing rather than less.

A final note: If you look closely, you’ll see emanations and penumbras of female hypergamy in the GSS results above.

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