New York Times Motherlode columnist Lisa Belkin cites research that claims parents of girls are 5% more likely to get divorced than parents of boys, based on research conducted in 2003. Her recent spotlight on a Psychology Today article has renewed interest and debate surrounding the assertion that daughters are more likely to cause a divorce.
Blaming the kids for divorce misplaces the burden of the parents’ relationship. It’s an easy out, but obviously research throws an interesting twist on our interpretation of divorce.
The data indicating that daughters cause divorce only gets worse. It seems the more kids in the marriage the greater the likelihood that the marriage will end, while more boys tend to indicate a marriage will hold together. In cases of premarital pregnancy the couple is more likely to get married if the baby is a boy, and the chances of a divorced women with a daughter getting remarried are significantly less than those of a divorced woman with a son.
That alone is startling information, but its traditional interpretation isn’t much better than the data. This research has been interpreted to mean that boys somehow benefit the marriage, or specifically the man. Therefore, Daddy will work harder to stay in the marriage and make things work.
New interpretation of the data takes the little cloud of glory away from sons and builds a case for strong women. Anita Kelly, of Psychology Today, suggests that women who have daughters may have less need for a man. Women have a bond with their daughter that offers them a meaningful relationship
Kelly points out that several factors have been ignored in traditional interpretation of the data. Namely, that 73% of divorces are initiated by wives. This may mean that women of daughters feel they have more emotional support than women who have sons. In the words of Kelly, “they know that with a girl, they’ll never be lonely or without help. Thus they may be less willing to tolerate any bad behaviors from their husbands…”
And so the pendulum swings in the divorce debate. Kelly’s assertion is that women with girls are stronger and more willing to take a chance on their own rather than stay in an unhappy marriage. Lay this beside the traditional interpretation of the data that parents of girls are more likely to divorce and you opposite ends of the spectrum. One side claiming boys are glue, the other side claiming girls are a support mechanism for their mothers.
Those who think girls cause divorce see girls as a liability. Those who think girls enable the mother to get a divorce see girls as an asset.
The mother-daughter bond is a compelling argument, but it still plays into the blame game. Could it be in relationships with sons that rather than the father staying with the son the mother stays with the husband because she wants to provide her boy with a strong role model?
That is supported by the data on divorce. It places the decision about a divorce squarely in the mother’s corner, which is where research indicates it belongs in the US. That’s not to say the wife is to blame, but it also means the kids aren’t to blame one way or the other.
Marriages are too complex to blame the breakdown of a relationship on having a child, boy or girl. But mothers base a lot of their decisions on how the kids will be affected, including whether to divorce or stick it out in a marriage. The question then becomes are men or women more likely to consider the effects of their behavior on the kids?
I don’t like the data, but it is what it is. I will not use it to lay blame on boys or girls, but examine how having a boy or girl causes a mother or father to think and act. That falls somewhere in between both interpretations of the research.
Why do you think couples with daughters are more likely to divorce? Is it because they benefit from the support of a daughter? Is it because they stay to keep their son with his father? Is there another factor that has been overlooked altogether?
Belkin, Lisa. Do Daughters Cause Divorce? The New York Times.
Kelly, Anita E. Why Parents of Girls Divorce More, Psychology Today.