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Divorce According To Plan

Who and why breaks off relationships more often


HSE demographers, using data from the largest international sample survey in Russia, have shown that women are more likely than men to think about divorce and dissolve marriage more decisively. Young couples are more likely than others to be critical of family relationships. The research report was prepared for the XXI April International Scientific Conference at the Higher School of Economics.

Revision of marriage: from intentions to actions

The quality of family relationships, the length of the marriage, the age and education of the spouses, common children – all this undoubtedly affects the preservation of the union. But there is another significant factor – the intentions of the partners related to their assessment of the marriage.

Drawing on the theory of planned behavior , which links intention and action, the researchers decided to look at how often dissatisfaction with the quality of relationships and thoughts of divorce actually ruin families.

People often implement the scenario that was thought out in advance. Therefore, demographers use the theory of planned behavior when analyzing reproductive intentions and decisions (how many children they wanted and how many eventually appeared), marital behavior (the choice of an official or unregistered union – cohabitation, the planned number of marriages, etc.).

On panel data from three waves of the survey “Parents and children, men and women in family and society” ( RiDMiZh , 2004, 2007 and 2011) Elena Churilov and Sergey Zakharov analyzed how often lately family Russians thought of parting with a partner and in the end they really diverged.

“We are interested in how believable the declarative statements about the intention to leave are,” explains the researcher. “We are looking at the responses of respondents who have had a relationship with a partner for different periods of time.”

Feminine Courage: Double Determination

More than 3,000 respondents from different marriage cohorts (those who got married in 1965-1979, in the 1980s, 1990s, early 2000s) asked if they had thought about divorce in the last year and if they were planning to leave their spouse during the next three years.

The researchers also took into account the characteristics of marriage (first / second, with a stamp in the passport or not), the number of children and place of residence (city / village).

It turned out that women in relationships of very different durations were twice as likely as men to think about the quality of relationships. They were also more likely to break up with their partner – and in the end they did so.

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The oldest mating cohorts in the study entered a union between 25 and 39 years ago. With such a solid experience of family life, in the 1965-1979 marriage cohort, the proportion of women who underwent a mental revision of their marriage – thinking about relationships in it, was only 15% (the divorce process was simplified just in 1965). And men – only 7%.

That is, there were twice as many women thinking about divorce.

In the future, this ratio remained – against the background of the growth from one marriage cohort to another in the proportion of women and men who doubted their marriage.

The “younger” the union, the more people thought about parting. Of those who got married in the early 2000s, over a quarter – 27% – of women and 14% of men thought about divorce.

Percentage of men and women who thought about breaking up with a partner in the past year, depending on the cohort of those who got married
Divorce According To Plan
Divorce According To Plan- Source: Institute for Family Studies (IFS)

Period of mutual “grinding”

The fact that the share of people who critically assessed their marriage turned out to be clearly higher among those who got married in the 2000s is largely due to purely psychological reasons. 

At the time of the study, they were at the beginning of a joint journey.

At this stage, couples organize a joint life, distribute responsibilities, find out each other’s views on different aspects of life together, comments Elena Churilova. During this period, the proportion of those who think about the breakup is usually higher.

“In a conflict situation, questions arise:“ Is this partner suitable for me? Am I comfortable living with him? Do our views on the distribution of household chores, the desired number of children, the frequency of communication with parents coincide? – says the researcher. “And, of course, there are more cohabitations among the unions created at the beginning of the 2000s, and it is easier to part ways than to divorce.”

Is the family unshakable?

People who have been married for a long time may also eventually realize that marriage does not suit them.

“There is a ‘gray divorce’ phenomenon, which is observed, for example, in the United States and Japan, – says Churilova. – Spouses live together for a long time, and after the children grow up and leave the family, it turns out that the husband and wife have no common interests. They decide to divorce. “

Nevertheless, it is impossible to talk about the devaluation of the family on the basis of this – at least in Russia, demographers say. “The family still retains a high value for Russians in all polls ,” says the researcher.

“At the same time, almost half of our fellow citizens allow divorce in the event of insurmountable family disagreements,” recalls Churilova. “People understand that there is little point in being in an unhappy marriage.”

Men: the older the marriage, the stronger

For men, marriage revision is less common. Those who became husbands in the 1980s and 1990s thought about the breakup in almost the same way.

Answers about intentions to part with a partner in the next three years gave the following picture: among those who got married in zero, a third of men and women intended to end the relationship.

For older men, the picture is different. Of those who have been married for more than 15 years, only 6% intend to divorce (in a subsample of people who thought about parting), and among those who have been in a union for five to 14 years – 14%.

Women are more inclined to divorce. Every fourth respondent among those who thought about breaking up in the cohorts of unions of 1965-1979 spoke about plans to part with a partner, and every third in the cohorts of the eighties and nineties.

Divorces in fact

Statistics and sample studies, including those from Soviet times, say that among women born in 1945-1979, every third went through a divorce or separation from a common-law husband.

If we look at the marriage cohorts, then the 1945-1954 cohorts got married even in a period when divorce was difficult. As a result, by the 30th year of marriage, only 14% of women in this group were divorced.


“At the beginning of the marriage, it was very difficult to divorce,” explains Elena Churilova. – And after ten to twenty years of union, there were already children, it seemed more difficult to decide to break up. And because there was no free housing market, and because there were still few people around with the experience of divorce. “

In the marriage cohort of 1955-1964, the number of divorced women is already almost twice as many – 22%. And in the cohort of the 1970s-1980s – about 30%.

For those who got married in the nineties, 30% of marriages have broken up in 15 years.

Unregistered unions break up twice as often – in 50-60% of cases for those who started living together in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

Parting country

Russia is the leader in the overall divorce rate (the number of divorces per 1000 people) among the industrialized countries of the world. It was 4.2 in the country. A similar level is shown by other post-Soviet countries – Belarus (3.4), Latvia (3.1), Ukraine (3.0), and the United States (3.2). The rest of the countries lag significantly behind.

The total divorce rate in Russia has been growing since 1990 (3.8 at that time), peaking in 2002 (6.0) and by 2017 fell to 4.2.

Divorce According To Plan
Divorce According To Plan

If we measure parting by the coefficient of total divorce rate (it shows the total share of broken marriages), then it was 0.58 per marriage in Russia in 2011-2014 and 0.52 in 2015-2017.

It can be expected that if the rate of divorce does not change, then more than half of the unions entered into in recent years will end in dissolution.

In terms of the total divorce rate, the country was also among the leaders, along with Sweden, the USA, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and the UK, where this indicator is also 0.5 and higher.

Divorce demographics

The average duration of marriage in our time fluctuates in the region of 9.5-10.5 years, and there is a tendency to decrease it.

Divorced men are usually older than women (the latter get married earlier). At the same time, the age of parting is growing.

According to Rosstat statistics, for men it grew from 37.8 years in 1970 to 39.7 years in 2011. Today it has hardly changed – 39.6 years in 2018.

For women, this age increased from 33.6 years to 35.7 by the beginning of the 2010s. In 2018, it was 35.3.

These changes are attributed to the rise in the average age at marriage.

The average number of children at the time of separation is 1.2.

The reasons for divorce are very different: from marital infidelity to intolerance and religious considerations.

According to VTsIOM , Russians consider poverty, betrayal and misunderstanding between spouses to be the main reasons for divorce (46%, 22% and 21%, respectively).

How to (not) save a marriage

In one study, divorced people were asked what might have kept them from breaking up. The top five include the following answers: “elimination of the reasons for divorce” (here, apparently, a wide range of answers is assumed: betrayal, deception, etc.), “a feeling of love for each other”, “nothing”, “the presence of common children” and “material considerations”.

The respondents were also asked what, in their opinion, the stability of marriage is based on. They named factors such as mutual love and respect, loyalty, mutual support, common interests, responsibility to the family and the tolerance of the spouses towards each other.

Over the past 30 years, Russians have begun to say more often that if the decision to divorce has been made, then there are no factors that can influence it (36% in 2019 versus 29% in 1990).

At the same time, the circumstances that can prevent divorce have become more significant: the impossibility of “sharing” common children (34% in 2019 versus 25% in 1990) and the material dependence of one of the spouses (25% versus 7%).

Gathered – and got divorced

Intentions and truth largely predict further actions. Women who were determined to part with their husbands divorced 3.4 times more often than those who did not think about the breakup, Churilova and Zakharov note.

And even the respondents who were only thinking about getting a divorce, but were not going to do so, were 1.8 times more likely to end their relationship with their husbands. In addition, living in the city and the absence of children positively influenced the decision of women to leave their husbands .

Men decide to divorce less often than women. At the same time, respondents who were going to disperse did so 2.4 times more often than those who did not plan.

The order and type of union was added to the number of important factors in men. “Men are more likely to decide to end unhappy cohabitation than marriage,” demographers comment. “However, they are ready to break off a second alliance half as often as the first.”

More demands – more gaps

Thus, women are more likely than men to think about ending their marriage and are more determined to divorce.

“It is logical to assume that the requirements for the quality of relationships with a partner are higher for women than for men,” the researchers summarize.

Women are more explicit and open about their dissatisfaction with marriages not meeting their expectations.

Based on responses to questions about relationship satisfaction and frequency of conflict, women were, on average, less satisfied with their marriage. “They believe that conflicts in their family occur more often than we see from the responses of men,” the authors clarify.

This attitude affects behavior: the risks of breaking off relations are growing. And along with them – and the statistics of divorces, the researchers conclude.


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