Friday, August 5, 2011

Are Childless Couples More Likely to Divorce?

Are the childless more likely to divorce? This was the question posed to me by Vicki Larson, a journalist for, recently, and it gave me the opportunity to clarify.

She contacted me because she wanted to know why childless couples are more likely to end up divorced than couples with children, and this is how I responded in the subsequent article titled article titled “Are Childless Couples headed for Divorce?”
"Not all the childfree are intentionally childfree couples," Scott discovered…"A good chunk are postponers, those who delay parenthood."

Sometimes couples delay to the point that fertility problems arise. "Then the question of ''When should we have kids?' morphs into 'Should we have kids?" Scott says, forcing couples to explore other ways to have a baby, such as adoption, surrogates or in vitro fertilization (IVF). That, she says, can be extremely stressful and can lead to a fracture that a couple can't get past. In fact, many infertility specialists recommend marital counseling.

"If one partner desperately wants to try to have a child and one partner might not put as high a priority on it, that could be a deal breaker," she says. Often a couple hasn't discussed what point they stop trying -- how much money, how much time, how many procedures. Many women often feel like failures and feel less close to their partners; for many men, the fertility process can turn sex into anything other than pleasure. "I hear from men who say, 'This isn't fun anymore. I feel like I'm sperm on demand,'" Scott says.
What I wanted to express is that childless couples are childless or childfree thorough different pathways--either they have:
1) Intentionally delayed parenthood by taking actions to prevent conception; or
2) Tried to have a child but have not yet conceived, are infertile, or haven’t tried that hard (note the recent media focus on sexless marriages); or
3) Have had a child through live birth or adoption and have lost that child; or
4) Intentionally decided not to have biological children and remained childless through deliberate actions to prevent conception, or through termination of a pregnancy.

If you are childless because of 1), 2), or 3) and you and your partner are not on the same page decision-wise, or in a different stage or mourning or acceptance on the issue of children, there is a risk of a fracture. And if you are childfree because of 4) when both partners had agreed on remaining childless but one partner has since changed his or her mind that can be a serious issue too. In any case, it’s stressful, more so because you have a choice, unlike parents who already have kids and can’t take them back to the store for a refund.

So yes, the childless are more likely to divorce, some because they separate before the kids come along and are thus are not motivated to stay together because of the kids, some because they can’t agree on the number or timing of children, and some divorce for the same reasons couples who have kids get divorced: incompatibility, infidelity, emotional or physical abandonment, whatever.

So can you say that the childless have higher rates of divorce because they don’t have kids? I don’t think so. But I think you can say that some childless couples divorce because they are at odds about how they feel about not having children.

Flickr photo by madmolecule


Courtney Mroch said...

Huh. I'm surprised. I thought I saw a study where childless couples were less likely to divorce. Of course I didn't keep note of it to go back and see what I misinterpreted. Or maybe it was about happiness...I could be confusing findings. This was very interesting and I like how you broke down the different categories. I'd only considered 2 of them, not the 4. Brilliant!

Nyx said...

I think stats can be made to suit any demographic if you them in any angle that you chose to do so. Thus the idea of those who are childless or childfree or what have you have a higher divorce rate then those who are married might or might not be actually true depending on the data that is looked at.

I've known more couples with kids who have separated or even terminated their partnership with children in the picture then I know of those who are 20+ years married without children (some by choice others by circumstance).

Guess its why when I was dating I always asked the person I was going to date their stance on children if they said "maybe one day" or "yes" I knew they where not for me, if they said "no never" or "i can't" there where possibilities.

Both my hubby and I are of the No and Can't category when it comes to children, we are both unable to have them, and either of us have an interest in having any so it works for the both of us rather well.

Liz said...

I think the opinions presented here make complete sense! You would really have to look at the reasons behind why couples are childless and then look at the divorce rates for each group! Such a broad statement of "childless couples being more likely to divorce" is misleading and doesn't explore the depth of the situation.

My husband and I have always felt that having a child would put an immeasurable strain on our relationship, so being childless-by-choice is what is helping to keep our relationship strong!

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree that being at odds about what to do about children (that is, whether to have them) could be a contributing factor to divorce. (It was to two of mine...)

On the other hand, there is something, too (as written in the blog entry), to the idea that many couples won't divorce simply because they have children, and they're afraid of what it will do to them.

I'm curious about why divorce is such a big deal, frankly...

Temujin said...

Another way to look at it is that people with children are more likely to be stuck in bad marriages than people who don't have children.

I challenge the assumption that because one group of people stays married more than another that the "stay marrieds" actually have happier relationships. Maybe, maybe not. They may just have bigger obstacles to getting divorced. Maybe people without children have higher expectations about their marriages, fair or not.

I also wonder if getting divorced is less traumatic and less venomous when there aren't children involved. Maybe if divorce is easier for childfree people that's not a bad thing. IF it is.