Why are women divorcing each other?

The Office for National Statistics has published its analysis of the divorce rates in 2018 – and there is one thing that really leapt out at us about it.

The number of same-sex couples divorcing has rised every year since 2014, when same-sex marriage and divorce became a thing in the UK.

But in same-sex couples, women are ending their marriages at three times the rate men are.

In 2018, there were 428 divorces among same-sex couples in England and Wales, increasing by more than one-quarter (26.6%) from 338 in the previous year. Of these, three-quarters (75%) were among female couples, a similar proportion to that seen in 2017.

Divorce happens a bit earlier between women – the median duration of marriage for same-sex couples who divorced in 2018 was 3.9 years for men and 3.5 years for women – that number looks somewhat inflated because it includes people who originally registered a civil partnership but converted it to marriage when legislation allowed.

The mean age for divorce for same-sex couples in 2018 was higher for male couples (40.7 years) than female couples (38.3 years). This may reflect that male couples tend to be older when they marry compared with female couples – marriage statistics for 2016 showed that the average ages for marriage for male and female same-sex couples were 40.8 and 37.4 years respectively.

So why are more women divorcing one another than men?

In part it is about how many marry in the first place.  Each year since same-sex marriage became legal in Britain, more women have married each other than men. But not by a 75:25 margin – while the numbers vary a little from year to year the ratio is more like 55:45.

It could be that women are more likely to ‘marry in haste, repent at leisure’.  Most of us know the cliche about how what a woman brings on her second date with another woman is everything she owns: for whatever reason, do women leap to marriage more quickly?

Maybe it is that more women are unwilling to tolerate infidelity than men? The reputations for casual sex of Grindr and Her apps might suggest a different balance of attitudes to casual sex.

Economics could have an impact as well – the limited research in the UK on income and sexual orientation says that bi and gay women both tend to make less than straight women, and gay men make more than straight men but bi men earn less.  Blend in the way bi women outnumber lesbians but gay men outnumber bi men and maybe the maths just works out that male couples are more financially secure and so their marriages hit fewer problems along the way.

Probably a bit of everything and three things we haven’t thought of. As with so many sociological questions it seems the answer for now is “further research required”.