Gender differences in life paths: We now have some definitive answers
Is it a his and hers world when it comes to marrying, living single, living alone, or living apart from a romantic partner? What about initiating divorce or getting married more than once? We now know, sometimes from studies of more than 100 nations, and sometimes from more than a century of data, that there are gender differences in all of these matters.
Being married or single or living alone is different from liking it. Are there gender differences in satisfaction with marital status or living arrangements? What about widowhood – are there gender differences in bereavement?
These are some of the most fundamental questions about how men and women differ in the paths they take through life and the psychology of their experiences. Here are 10 answers. Perhaps in a decade or so, we will also know about people who do not identify as male or female.
Single for Life
Up to age 64, there are more never-married men than women
All though young adulthood and middle adulthood, there are more lifelong single men than women in the U.S.
A gender reversal in lifelong singlehood begins at 65
Between ages 65 and 74, there are more lifelong single women than men in the U.S. But the percent of all men who are lifelong singles is .3 greater than the percent of all women who are lifelong singles. It is not until age 75 and beyond that there are more women than men who have never been married, both in terms of total numbers and percentages.
Women like being single more than men do. Studies from Germany, Poland, and the United States show that women are more satisfied with their single lives.
Among young adults, more men than women live alone
A study of 113 nations from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania found that in nearly all 113 nations, more young men than young women (ages 25-29) live alone.
Among middle-aged adults, the difference decreases
The same study found that among people who were between 50 and 54 years old, more men lived alone, but the difference was smaller than for the younger adults. There were many exceptions – countries in which more women than men lived alone in midlife.
In later life, women are far more likely to live alone
In the vast majority of the 113 nations, for adults between 75 and 79 years old, a far greater percentage of women than men lived alone. Another global study of adults in six regions of the world looked at a broader range of older people – ages 60 and beyond. Nearly twice as many older women than older men lived alone, 20% vs. 11%.
Living Alone Happily and Securely
Women like living alone more than men do. They enjoy spending time alone more than men do. They are more satisfied with their friendships. They spend more time pursuing their interests and hobbies. If they are heterosexuals who were previously married or living with a man, they are especially happy not to be doing more than their fair share of the household chores or the work of caring for others.
There is one way that men who live alone have an advantage over women in later life: they are more secure, financially. However, this is not specific to people who live alone. In just about every living arrangement, older men are less likely to be impoverished than older women.
In the U.S., on the average, men are older than women when they first get married. However, that difference has been decreasing over time. For example, in 1900, men were 4 years older than women when they married for the first time. A century later, in 2000, newlywed men were only 1.7 years older than women.
In heterosexual marriages, women file for divorce far more often than men. Currently, about 70% of the time, it is the woman who files for divorce. This gender difference has been remarkably consistent for about a century and a half. In 1867, 62% of divorces were initiated by women.
Getting remarried is a guy thing. Nearly twice as many men as women who were previously married try it all over again (40 out of every 1,000 for men vs. 21 of 1,000 for women, in data from the U.S.).
A meta-analysis of 49 studies of people who were widowed found that, on the average, the initial impact of the death of a spouse was quite negative for both men and women. However, women adapted to bereavement more quickly than men.
Couples Who Live Apart
A study of heterosexual couples in Germany found that one of the most important differences between couples who live together and those who live apart (living apart together, LAT) was the wishes of the women. Women who like their time alone were especially likely to get their way about living apart.
The men’s wishes mattered, too, but in a different way. When men said explicitly that they liked their time alone, but lived with their partners, both they and their partners reported more conflicts in their relationship and less satisfaction.
Marriage vs. Single Life
Is it true that single women and married men do best? In a previous review here at “Living Single,” I presented some evidence that women just aren’t into marriage as much as men are, and they do better than men at living single. However, there are some big studies that find hardly any gender differences at all.