“Women in long-standing marriages tend to want to move on more”…Part of this may be biological. Hormonal changes after menopause seem to reduce a woman’s emotional range and particularly her interest/ability to bond. On the average, a 55 year old woman does not seem to feel a need for male company (I’m not even talking about sex here) in the same way a 55 year old man does for female company.
It has been my personal observation that whenever the discussion turns to the Dating/Mating/Marriage marketplace for women later in life the first response is denial, and after overwhelming data is provided the second response is that women don’t really want men around later in life anyway.
But since this assertion comes up fairly frequently I decided to see what I could dig up on the question. If it turns out to be correct that around age 55 or so women feel a sudden urge to no longer be married, this would seem to reinforce those voices calling for an all out marriage strike. If women aren’t interested in marriage for life, what is the point?
I did some searching around but either there isn’t much written on the topic or I wasn’t using the right search terms. My own sense on this is that women tend to drop out of the dating market when their options are the slimmest just like men do when their options are slimmest. I also think that the sex specific stigma of terms like spinster and old maid probably aren’t “social constructs” as so many assume. It strikes me that in evolutionary terms a woman and her offspring who didn’t have investment from a man later in life would be at a disadvantage safety and resource wise compared with women who did. I don’t see any reason why this would suddenly cease to be around the age of 55.
At any rate, as I said I can’t find any studies which confirm this one way or another. If you have any links I would appreciate it if you posted them in the comments section. However, I do have access to data from the US Census, so I decided to chart out women’s relationship status by age bracket. The data below is from the 2010 Census. I limited the data set to White Non Hispanic women to remove potential trends which might be due to a demographic shift over time. All values represent percents.
I think this data pretty well dispels the idea that women are wired to prefer to divorce and live alone later in life. A woman’s likelihood of being married remains surprisingly flat between ages 35 and 65. Only after age 65 is the percentage of women married on the decline, and this is driven not by women divorcing and remaining unmarried, but by them becoming widows and not remarrying.
The only caveat that I’ll add is that each age bracket represents a different group of women. So you can’t assume those in their 20s now for example will marry at the same rate today’s 30 year olds have. However, if there were a strong biological preference for women to divorce and remain unmarried around age 55 I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t show up in this data set.
Update: I now have data on 2009 US divorce rates per 1,000 married women by age.