Disputing many long-held assumptions about mid and late-life divorce, a new survey conducted for AARP The Magazine, found that 66 percent of women claimed to have initiated their split. It's one of many striking revelations from "The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond"—a landmark survey on why divorces happen, and how they affect the parties involved. Also surprising were the reinvigorated sex lives of both men and women who remarried after their divorce—and the significantly higher percentage of men who feared losing touch with their children in the wake of a split.
The overwhelming percentage of women who initiated their divorce reflects AARP The Magazine's larger finding that women seemed more in tune with the danger signs of a problem marriage. Men were more likely to be caught off-guard by their divorce, with 26 percent of men saying they "never saw it coming," compared to only 14 percent of women.
"The idea of an older man leaving his wife for a younger woman is ingrained in the American psyche—and that has created a misconception about divorce," said AARP The Magazine editor Steve Slon. "But Carmela sent Tony packing when she wasn't happy, and I think that's emblematic of changing attitudes in America. As this survey makes abundantly clear, women are more than willing to chart a new life for themselves if they're in an unfulfilling marriage."
Life After Divorce
Sex and Divorce
- 57 percent of men and 54 percent of women who remarried after a midlife divorce have sex at least once a week.
- 77 percent of unmarried female divorcees claim to NEVER have sex, compared with 49 percent of men.
- 75 percent of women in their 50s reported enjoying a serious, exclusive relationship after their divorce — often within two years. 81 percent of men in their 50s did the same.
- 70 percent of those who initiated a divorce were confident they'd done the right thing.
- The biggest fear of divorce, named by almost half (45 percent) of all respondents, was the prospect of being alone.
- 80 percent of respondents reported either a somewhat or very positive outlook of their life at present.
Why Troubled Marriages Continued
Surprisingly, the traditional moral taboo against divorce had little effect on holding together troubled marriages. Overwhelmingly, children were the glue—with significantly higher numbers of men fearing that they would drift from their kids in the wake of a split. Fifty-eight percent of men, compared with only 37 percent of women cited their children as the top reason they postponed a divorce for five years or longer.
Top Marriage Killers
physical or emotional abuse
drug or alcohol abuse
fell out of love
had different values or lifestyles
"Divorce is always a traumatic experience," said Slon. "So, it was a bit surprising to see the prevailing sense of optimism that came through in this survey—from both men and women. There was a sense among most that they were emerging with a new lease on life."
*Results from "The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond" are based on surveys with 1,147 men and women, ages 40 to 79, who experienced a divorce in their 40s, 50s or 60s.
Montenegro, Xenia P. The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond. Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2004. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00061.001