Peggy Drexler Ph.D.

Our Gender, Ourselves

Men, Women, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Are men more like women and women more like men?

Posted Jan 23, 2012

It seems with every new study, a few more bricks pop loose from the façade of gender assumptions.

Two recently hit us back to back.

One said that women are getting less traditional about relationships, while men are getting more so.

Another found a sharp rise in the end of marriages that have lasted 20, 30 years or more. And in two out of every three of them, it's the woman who initiated the split.

What's going on here? Is it the evolution of women?  Is it the decline of men? Are we all going to hell?

Nope. It's just evidence of the long, slow decline of expectations.

The relationship study, run by biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher for the dating site,, focused on 5,200 single men and women between the ages of 21 and 65. It was one of the largest studies of its kind.

It found some surprises. By 51 percent to 46 percent, men wanted children more than women did. A whopping 77 percent of women said that personal space in a relationship was important. For men: 58 percent. Some 35 percent of women wanted regular nights out with friends, versus 23 percent of men.

For those seeking some old-fashioned support for marriage there was this: 63 of single women said "yes" to the question "Do you want to get married?" For men, it was 63 percent.

These numbers are all the more interesting when you consider that 96 million Americans are single - one third of the population, the highest percentage of singles in 60 years. For those 25 to 29, it's 47 percent.

Let's move to the other end of the spectrum, where a review of the Census finds a spike in baby boomers ending long marriages at a time when the divorce rate for all Americans leveled off and is trending down.

The Census tells us about one quarter of couples recently divorced were married 20 years. For couples married between 1955 and 1984, the number of marriages making it 20 years has dropped by 20 percent.

There are the poster couples for late-life divorce; the Gores, the Schwarzeneggers. We're starting to see them show up just down the block. In the past, and certainly in the headlines, it's often men behaving horrendously. But not necessarily.

Many of us have received the phone call I got several weeks ago from a long-time friend. I'd said "hello" and was on my way to "How are you?" She blurted out "Steve and I are splitting."

I braced myself for the tearful announcement of other women (maybe man, but, no, probably woman). There wasn't one. "It was my idea," she said. "I did it. " We have different interests. We have different friends. We don't even watch the same TV shows. All that's holding us together is inertia and community property."

A little research turns up some good reasons for these late boomer splits. Longer lives means more time to be happier. Women have money. Older kids tend to take it in stride. And divorce - at any age-is becoming about as remarkable as an anniversary.

Are men more like women and women more like men? Not really. What's changing is society; finally, slowly, getting out of the way of our ability to live the life we want, not the one others expect.

Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Medical College, Cornell University, and author Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family (Rodale, May 2011). Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy at

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