do women in russia divorce?

Demographers at the Higher School of Economics, using data from the largest international sample survey conducted in Russia, have shown that women more often than men think about divorce and decisively dissolve marriages. Young couples are more likely than others to look critically at family relationships. The study report was prepared for the XXI International Scientific Conference in April at the Higher School of Economics.

Marriage review: from intentions to actions

The quality of relationships within the family, the length of the marriage, the age and education of the spouses, their common children - all of these undoubtedly have an impact on the preservation of the union. But there is another important factor - the partners' intentions related to their evaluation of the marriage.

Drawing on the theory of planned behavior, which links intentions to actions, the researchers decided to examine the extent to which dissatisfaction with the quality of a relationship and thoughts of divorce actually ruin families.

People often act out a scenario that has been thought out in advance. Therefore, demographers apply the theory of planned behavior when analyzing reproductive intentions and decisions (how many children did they want and how many did they end up having), marital behavior (choice of a formal or informal union - cohabitation, planned number of marriages, etc.).

Using panel data from three waves of the Parents and Children, Men and Women in Family and Society survey (RDMIJ, 2004, 2007, and 2011), Elena Churilova and Sergey Zakharov analyzed how often family Russians recently thought about separating from their partners and ended up actually separating.

"We are interested in the plausibility of statements about the intention to break up," the researcher explains. - "We look at the responses of respondents who have been in a relationship with their partner for different lengths of time.

Women's courage: a dual determination

More than 3,000 respondents from different marriage cohorts (those married between 1965 and 1979, in the 1980s, 1990s and early 1990s) were asked whether they had considered divorce in the past year and whether they planned to separate from their spouse in the next three years.

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

It was found that women who were in a relationship for a longer or shorter period of time thought twice as often as men about the quality of the relationship. They were also more likely to consider separating from their partner - and eventually did.

The oldest marriage cohorts in the study had entered into a union between 25 and 39 years ago. With such a strong marital track record, in the 1965-1979 marriage cohort, the percentage of women who mentally revisited their marriage - thinking about their relationship - was only 15% (the divorce process only became easier in 1965). And men - only 7%.

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

Subsequently, this ratio remained the same - in a context of growth, from one marriage cohort to the next, in the share of women and men doubting their marriage.

The "younger" the union, the more people think about separation. Among those who married in the early 1990s, more than a quarter-27%-of women and 14% of men have thought about divorce.

Share of men and women who have thought about breaking up with their partner in the past year, by cohort of those who married.

The period of mutual "adjustment 

The fact that the proportion of people who are critical of their marriage is significantly higher among those who married in the 1990s is largely due to purely psychological reasons.

At the time of the study, they were at the beginning of their journey together.

At this stage, couples organize a joint household, divide tasks, clarify each other's views on different aspects of life together, comments Elena Churilova. During this period, the share of those who think about breaking up is usually higher.

"In a conflict situation, questions arise: 'Is this partner right for me? Am I comfortable living with him? Do our views on the division of household chores, the desired number of children, the frequency of communication with parents coincide? - says the researcher. - And, of course, cohabitation among the unions created in the early nineties, more, and separation is easier than a divorce.

Is the family unbreakable?

People who have been married for a long time can also realize over time that the marriage does not suit them.

There is the phenomenon of 'grey divorce' observed in the United States and Japan, for example," explains 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 devaluation of the family on this basis - at least in Russia, demographers believe. "The family retains a high value for Russians, according to all surveys," the researcher says.

"At the same time, almost half of our citizens allow divorce in case of insurmountable family disagreements," Churilova reminds. - People understand that there is not much point in having an unhappy marriage."

Men: The older the marriage, the stronger it is.

Marriage review is less common among men. Those who became husbands in the 1980s and 1990s thought about separation in almost equal measure.

Responses regarding intentions to break up with a partner in the next three years yielded the following picture: among those who married in the 2000s, one-third of both men and women intended to end their relationship.

Among older men, the picture is different. Among those who have been married for more than 15 years, only 6% (in the subsample of those who have thought about separation) intend to divorce, while among those who were in a union from five to 14 years - 14%.

Women are more likely to divorce. One in four women surveyed in the 1965-1979 union cohorts, and one in three in the 1980s and 1990s cohorts, spoke of their intention to break up with their partner.

Divorces in fact
Statistics and sample surveys, including those from the Soviet era, show that among women born between 1945 and 1979, one in three experienced a divorce or separation from their common-law partner.

Looking by marriage cohorts, the 1945-1954 cohorts married during a period when divorce was difficult. As a result, only 14% of women in this cohort were divorced after 30 years together.

"At the beginning of the marriage, divorce was very difficult," explains Elena Churilova. - And after ten to twenty years of union, there were already children, it seemed more difficult to decide to separate. Both because there was no free housing market and because there were few people with experience of divorce. 


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

For those who married in the 1990s, 30% of marriages broke up in 15 years.

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

The dismemberment of the country

Russia leads in overall divorce rate (number of divorces per 1,000 people) among the world's industrialized nations. The country's divorce rate was 4.2. Other post-Soviet countries, such as Belarus (3.4), Latvia (3.1), Ukraine (3.0), and the United States (3.2), have similar figures. Other countries lag significantly behind.

Russia's overall divorce rate has been rising since 1990 (3.8 at the time), peaked in 2002 (6.0), and fell to 4.2 in 2017.

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

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

In terms of the total divorce rate, the country is also in the top tier, along with Sweden, the United States, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and the United Kingdom, where this indicator is also equal to or greater than 0.5.

Divorce demographics

The average length of marriage today is between 9.5 and 10.5 years, with a decreasing trend.

Men who divorce are generally older than women (the latter marry earlier). At the same time, the age of separation is increasing.

According to Rosstat statistics, for men it rose from 37.8 years in 1970 to 39.7 years in 2011. Today, it is almost unchanged - 39.6 years in 2018.

For women, the age increased from 33.6 to 35.7 in the early 2010s. In 2018, it was 35.3.

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

The average number of children at separation is 1.2.

Reasons for divorce range from marital infidelity to intolerance and religious considerations.

According to VCIOM, the main reasons for divorce are poverty, infidelity and misunderstanding between spouses (46%, 22% and 21% respectively).

How to (not) save a marriage

A study asked divorced people what might have prevented them from breaking up. In the top 5 were the following answers: "elimination of reasons for divorce" (here, a wide range of answers is apparently assumed: adultery, cheating, etc.), "feeling of love for each other", "nothing", "presence of common children" and "material considerations".

Respondents were also asked what they think marriage stability is based on. They named factors such as mutual love and respect, loyalty, mutual support, common interests, responsibility to the family, and tolerance of each other.

Over the past 30 years, Russians have become more likely to say that if the decision to divorce is made, no one factor can influence it (36% in 2019 vs. 29% in 1990).

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

Together - and divorced

Intentions and truth largely predict future actions. Women who are determined to separate from their husbands, divorce 3.4 times more often than those who have not thought about separation, say Churilova and Zakharov.

And even those respondents who only thought about separation, but were not going to do it, broke up with their husbands 1.8 times more often. In addition, women's decision to break up with their husbands was positively influenced by living in the city and not having children.


Couples without children divorce more often

Men decide to divorce less often than women. Respondents who were going to divorce did so 2.4 times more often than those who did not intend to divorce.

The order and type of union added to the number of factors important to men. "Men are more likely to decide to end a cohabitation that does not suit them than a marriage, - commented the demographers. - But they are half as likely to leave a second union as they were in their first.

More demands, more breakups

Thus, women are more likely than men to consider ending their marriages and are more determined to divorce.

"It is logical to assume that women have higher demands on the quality of the relationship with their partner than men," the researchers conclude.

Women are more vocal and open about their dissatisfaction with the inconsistency of the marriage with their expectations.

Judging by responses to questions about relationship satisfaction and frequency of conflict, women were on average less satisfied with their marriages. "They believe that conflict in their families occurs more often than we see in men's responses," the authors state.

Such attitudes have an impact on behavior: the likelihood of relationship breakdown is increasing. And with them, so do divorce statistics, the researchers conclude.