Why do American men remarry more readily than do American women? That’s the question Vicki Larson raises in this article (Huffington Post, 9/27/11).
I’ve written about Larson before, and she’s generally pretty down to earth. She also possesses that rarest of qualities in people who opine about marriage, divorce, custody and the like – a lack of misandry. And so it is in her current piece. The problem is that neither she nor the various experts she quotes seems to quite get to the heart of the matter. Larson touches on some good points, but misses an important one – perhaps the most important one.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about one-third of men over 45 remarry after a divorce (or, I assume, the death of a spouse), while only about 25% of women do. Now, let’s not forget that the difference between 33 1/3% and 25% is only 8 1/3%, so in truth, women and men aren’t behaving in dramatically different ways. Also, since there are fewer men than women, it’s a safe bet that the hard numbers of men and women remarrying are closer still.
But the tendencies are there and it’s worth ruminating on why men and women behave differently, if only slightly so.
For Emily V. Gordon, a therapist and Huffington Post blogger, it may because men don’t have the sort of support women do post-divorce:
“In my experience as a therapist and as a friend, it seems that the majority of the breakup resources available are for women and not men. Women, who tend to be more vocal about their emotional struggles, are the squeaky wheel that gets the grease from friends, from online communities, from books, and from therapeutic approaches. Women are encouraged to go on an emotional journey of self-care after a divorce, while men are expected to need help learning how to cook and parent on their own. When you Google “how men handle divorce,” many of the links advise women on what to do if their husbands become violent during the divorce process. Why is there so little focus on how men can heal after a divorce?”
It’s an interesting point. Men don’t tend to complain or seek support; women do. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of support services, both formal and informal for women, and relatively few for men.
But I suspect there’s more to it than that. Gordon’s question about the lack of attention paid to men’s pain post-divorce is surely answered in part by the different ways in which men and women are viewed by society generally. The simple fact is that we still tend to expect men to “stiff-upper-lip” their way through accident, injury, illness, war, depression and of course divorce.
The way the news media treat male suffering strongly indicates the double standard that pervades society and public discourse. An article recently in The Guardian about the rape of males in the various African civil wars was notable for many reasons. One was that it was the first of its kind; another was the astonishing prevalence of rape of men and boys and still another was the revelation that international organizations that oppose rape as a weapon of war uniformly opposed the publication of the article. Their reason? Bringing attention to the rape of men might siphon off resources from efforts to curtail the rape of women.
Back during the war in Bosnia in the 90s, it was well known to policy-makers, the press and the United Nations that it was Serbian policy to exterminate as many Bosnian men and boys of military age as possible. The various atrocities, so widely publicized, were all aimed at precisely that, and yet the press was astonishingly hesitant to state the fact. An excellent analysis of five international news outlets’ coverage of the conflict revealed that, over years of articles and commentary, almost no mention was made of the fact that it was precisely men and boys who were targeted for death.
So I’d say that one of the reasons for the lack of attention paid to the pain men experience on divorce is, in addition to the choices men and women make, also a matter of good old-fashioned sexism.
Speaking of which, Larson quotes “Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.” Now what do you think a professor of “gender studies” would have to say on the subject? I wonder if he would take the opportunity to denigrate men. Let’s see.
A working woman doesn’t necessarily want to “walk right back into the same sort of situation from which she just extricated herself,” he said, and the unequal distribution of household chores may have something to do with it. He also wonders about the marriageability of men:
“I’m convinced that one reason that so many divorced women are so reluctant to remarry (and so many women unwilling to marry in the first place) is that frankly, marriage doesn’t seem to be a very appealing deal for most women. And one of the reasons why marriage seems unappealing is that the sacrifices of marriage are many, and the benefits increasingly few — especially considering that an extraordinary number of men may not be worth marrying!”
Larson squelches that misandric nonsense, but one must ask why she included it in the first place. It’s valuable to get competing views on a subject, but if it were me, I’d try to make sure they all at least made sense. Women don’t want to remarry because they do too much of the housework? Well, why don’t men reject remarriage because they do too much of the paid work? Schwyzer doesn’t let on because the fact that men and women do equal amounts of combined paid and unpaid work conflicts with his mythology about the sexes, specifically that men are louts.
Most importantly, what neither Larson nor any of her expert” mention is children. It’s been known for a good many years that women are far more likely to file for divorce than are men, and we also know why. The reason, as Douglas Allen and Margaret Brinig have shown, is that women know they won’t lose their children when they divorce. The overwhelming preference of courts for maternal custody is the greatest encouragement to women to divorce, and correspondingly the greatest discouragement to men.
So it seems to me that remarriage holds a promise for men that women simply have no need for – children. Yes, divorce is painful and marriage means the possiblity of divorce. Indeed, divorce is probably more painful for men than for women for that very reason – they lose their children. But remarriage means they can reacquire a family, either by having more children of their own or because their new mate brings children with her.
Women, by contrast already have their families, courtesy of the courts. Remarriage for them would simply be a duplication of what they already have.
It’s a pretty straightforward concept, but one that escaped Larson and all the people she quoted. I’d be interested to know if my speculations are borne out by any science on the matter.