Life Relationships Do men need women more than women need them?

Do men need women more than women need them?

Women are great for men's health. Not so much the other way round. Photo: Getty
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Single men are less interested in marriage and commitment than single women. Ironically, once married, females are more likely to break that commitment.

While the gap is closing, self-reports of Australians divorcing suggest around 69 per cent of marriage break-ups might be initiated by the wife. It’s a pattern that has held true in Europe, the US and Australia since the 1940s.

So, do men need women more than the other way round?

Some of the suggestion for this comes from the fact that men’s health and wellbeing seem to benefit more from marriage. Men who are married tend to be healthier than those who aren’t, says a recent Harvard University publication.

Studies indicate married men have less heart disease. However, the same doesn’t hold true for married women, who experience little difference to their single peers.

Men also fare worse when they lose their partner. A 2012 American study found the death of a spouse increased men’s risk of dying by an average of 27 per cent, compared to 15 per cent for women.

Separated men are also more likely than separated women to jump back into a new relationship according to a 2015 Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) report.

But an even more telling statistic: Of the roughly 13 per cent of Australians who live alone, 76 per cent of the women preferred this arrangement compared to 56 per cent of the men.

What’s behind men’s greater need to be partnered? And why does it matter?

In the provocatively titled 2012 book, The End of Men, Hanna Rosin suggests that men – increasingly locked out of the workforce and absent from the domestic sphere – are becoming less useful to women.

Regardless of outside employment, women do proportionally more childcare and housework when they cohabit with men.

The average Australian woman performs between five and 14 hours of unpaid domestic work a week, according to 2016 Census data. The average Australian male spends less than five hours on the chores.

Another turn off for women: they’re more likely to be subject to violence or infidelity from their intimate other-half. A recent HILDA report found physical violence was the single biggest contributing factor towards separation.

Andrew King, a practice specialist in group work and community education at Relationships Australia, says, “Instead of making assumptions about how the relationship works, everything [family responsibilities, household tasks] needs to be negotiated now. The person is wondering, what value will the relationship bring?”

With brawn less of a power base in the information age, Mr King says men who don’t master communication within their relationships are making themselves redundant.

“In a very communication rich and savvy world, communication is probably one of the most prized assets.

“Relationships are critical for everyone. However, women are much more likely to have ongoing friendship networks and interest areas. This helps them redefine and redevelop their lives and prosper better when living independently of men, or as life changes.”

Casualisation of the workforce and technological change continues to erode traditional male roles with repercussions for relationships. In fact, AIFS data reveal a strong association between living alone and lower income and education for men, but not women.

Mr King suggests men strive to create meaning beyond an intimate partner and work. “Men who can redefine their life and their connection with generativity [finding meaning in caring for something external to oneself] in older years will function just as well as women.”

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