A new study has found a possible reason for the much-vaunted decline in marriage: people are afraid of having to go through a divorce. And women are more likely than men to fear getting "trapped" in a relationship they can't easily exit.
Time reports on the study of 61 cohabiting but unmarried couples in Ohio. Sixty-seven percent of the participants said they were worried about the consequences of divorce, both for their finances and for their feelings. The study authors hypothesize that these worries are a major factor in keeping the couples from marrying. This isn't a totally surprising finding — Time's Belinda Luscombe writes that avoiding marriage for fear of divorce "sounds a little bit like choosing to stick with the shrimp appetizers for fear that the main dish will give you food poisoning," but divorce is serious enough that considering the possibility before jumping into marriage seems pretty prudent. What's more unusual about the study is that those most likely to fear the marriage "trap" are working-class women, not men. Luscombe explains these women's concerns about getting married:
[T]hey would get an extra person to look after but not an extra provider. Since working-class women are often the main breadwinners, they were more likely to worry that marriages would be harder and costly to exit. So they preferred to regard their relationship as impermanent. And although working-class men have seen their real earnings drop over the years, studies have shown, they still hold quite rigid views on what mens' and womens' roles are in the home.
Men's rights types like to portray marriage as a scam in which lazy women sponge off men, then divorce them and take all their money. But it seems like at least among working-class people, it's women who are worried about supporting an extra person, and going through a painful, difficult, and expensive process if it doesn't work out. The study authors note that middle-class couples fear both marriage and divorce less than their working-class counterparts — the study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that financial hardship impacts personal relationships, often in upsetting ways. But it also suggests that if marriage is declining, it's not because — as MRAs so often claim — men are wising up. It may be because women are.
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