Rumors of Our Lesbian Divorce Rates Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (But They’re Still Pretty True)

You may have heard that lesbian divorce rates are exceptionally high, and perhaps you may have found yourself wondering — are they really? And also — if so, why? If you’re searching for more information on this topic, you might even notice that the idea that lesbians are hot for divorce has been incorporated into the search-engine-optimized copy of numerous divorce lawyer websites around the web, all seeking a piece of the lesbian divorce market. These websites have made claims like “the lesbian divorce rate is 72%,” which is a misrepresentation of the available data as well as a misuse of the term “divorce rate.”

A closer look at the numbers reveals they’re not quite as alarming or definitive as they seem at first glance — but they definitely do seem to suggest, at the very least, that lesbians are more likely to divorce than gay male couples are. So let’s get into that data!

All The Actual Data We Have on Lesbian Divorce Rates

Firstly, data on divorce, even for straight people, has always been difficult to interpret and is often misinterpreted. We’re not even using the term “divorce rate” correctly, most of the time.

Secondly, same-sex marriage hasn’t been legal quite as long as opposite-sex marriage has, and various bureaucratic data-gathering institutions have struggled consistently over the years to accurately count how many gay people exist at all. So we simply don’t have the decades and decades of divorce data that straight people do. Even if you take into consideration the lack of numbers overall, it’s already incredibly challenging to compare patterns of dissolution of straight marriages to same-sex marriages because we also have a whole different set of cultural expectations and the added artificial factor of so many same-sex couples marrying not when they felt ready to, but when finally became legal.

Thus, aside from a very small study in 2011 that found we don’t get divorced as much as straight people do (yet!), we don’t have a lot of data comparing lesbians to straight people. Also, that study may have been debunked.

The primary study that created this “72% lesbian divorce rate” concept comes from England and Wales (where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014), which found that 72% of divorces between same-sex couples in 2019 were between lesbian couples. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that 72% of lesbian marriages (in England and Wales!) end in divorce, just that (in England and Wales), lesbian couples are nearly three times more likely than gay men to get divorced. However, 56% of all same-sex marriages tracked in that time period were between women, so some of that higher number can be accounted for by the fact that more of us are married, period — but certainly not all of it.

Data analyzed in the Netherlands found that of all couples married in 2010, 26% of lesbian marriages had become divorces by 2020, significantly more than the percentage of gay male marriages that had ended in divorce (14%) and straight ones (16%). Also in the Netherlands, a 2015 analysis showed that in the ten years since the Netherlands began allowing same-sex civil partnerships in 2005, 15% percent of the 2005-married gay male couples divorced, compared to 30% of lesbian ones.

In Belgium, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, 11% of female-female married couples had filed for divorce by the end of 2010, compared to 6.7% of male-male couples.

Now, there are several law firm websites who’ve claimed that “lesbian couples have a 34% divorce rate.” Those that claim this cite a source cite their source as… another law firm website, and that website doesn’t provide a source for its own data. Where does this number come from? What does it mean? I wish I could tell you!

Why Are Lesbian Couples More Likely to Divorce Than Gay Male Couples?

Even though the implications of the above data are limited, it does paint a pretty clear picture — clear enough for us to feel, as a community, that lesbians are more likely to divorce than gay men.

This is, I suspect, because those numbers are telling a story that already feels true. It feels true anecdotally, it feels true based on what we see amongst our own friends, or on social media, in the stories we read and surround ourselves with — hell, it feels true when looking at celebrity marriages and divorces. It just feels like more lesbians are getting married and more lesbians are getting divorced. Despite same-sex marriage only being legal for a bit under ten years and me not having very many friends in general, I’ve already been to more than one lesbian wedding that has since faced into divorce and know multiple lesbian couples who’ve divorced and in many cases, already remarried. (But — I am a lesbian, which means of course I’m more aware of and invited to goings-on in our own community!) Does it feel true to you? If so do you think that might be because we all have agreed that…

Lesbians Get Married Sooner and More Often

You may’ve heard that joke about the U-Haul? The one about how we, the lesbian community, tend to rush into various levels of legal commitment with startling velocity? This is the first place the mind goes when considering higher divorce rates — we tend to make major commitments more hastily, and unions predicated on shaky ground are more likely to dissolve into it. (That said, a divorce isn’t synonymous with “failure”! Marriages don’t have to last forever to be considered successful, fulfilling or healthy! That’s a heteronormative belief we should all let go of.)

Lesbians are on average getting married younger. The 2019 American Community Survey Data found the mean age for first-time married same-sex couples was lower for women (33) than for gay men (38). (For straight people, the mean age was 29, and the list of reasons why their numbers are so much lower than ours would be an entire additional article.) A 2017 survey by The Knot and Q Digital of 812 same-sex married couples had more extreme numbers for the age at which one got married — 46 for men and 36 for women.

In 2016, same-sex married couples in the U.S. were 55% women and 45% men. By 2020, a survey of available data by the U.S census found that of all same-sex married couples in the U.S, 53% were female-female and 46% were male-male, and female-female married (and unmarried) households continued to outpace those of gay men in 2022.

The numbers are often more dramatic in other countries. In Norway, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and Taiwan, over 60% of same-sex marriages are between two women. Apparently, in Canada, lesbian and gay women aged 25-64 are twice as likely to be married as gay men.

Do Lesbians Want To Get Married More Than Gay Men Do?

Obviously, “really wanting to get married, period,” can be a motivating factor for a person to get into a marriage that ultimately doesn’t work out, as anyone who has seen Love is Blind could tell you.

So I figured the overall lesbian desire to get married (especially because we’re more likely to have or want children, which tends to involve marriage) might be much higher than it is for gay men, and thus a contributing factor to our divorce rates. This specific hypothesis of mine, however, did not bear exceptional fruit. We’re a bit more eager to get married than gay men, but not overwhelmingly so.

A 2013 Pew study found that 56% of gay men, 58% of lesbians, and 45% of bisexuals would like to get married someday if they could. The rest were uncertain or gave a “no.” However, lesbians did give the least “no”s (12%), while gay men gave the most (18%)! What I probably failed to consider when expecting more dramatic numbers was how much the fact that many lesbians are often categorically opposed to governmental, heteronormative and patriarchal structures in general might have played a role in these findings.

In a 2022 survey of Australian youth, LGBTQIA+ women were a few percentage points more interested in marriage than gay men — although neither approached the level of heterosexual interest.

Do Lesbians Get Divorced More Because Women Are Involved?

In the UK, women petition for two-thirds of all total divorces — meaning women in general are simply more likely to want a divorce, and thus two women means two more divorce-prone humans angling for the exit. According to a divorce lawyer who spoke to The Economist in 2020, “women are much less likely to tolerate marital infidelity than men,” as apparently evidenced by Dutch women citing infidelity as a reason for divorce more than men. That said, straight women are perhaps more socialized than gay women to forgive (or even expect) infidelity from a male partner — whereas lesbians might be less inclined to push on.

But also, gay men tend to be the most open group to extramarital sexual activities in general — somewhere between 30% and 60% of gay male couples practice some form of non-monogamy (the statistics on this are so all over the place, I don’t even know where to begin with citing sources!). Data is mixed on whether open heterosexual marriages are more or less likely to end in divorce, but the gendered expectations of it would really make it impossible to draw gay conclusions from straight data.

Maybe Lesbians Divorce More Because Lesbians Make Less Money

The top cause of stress for married couples and households are finances. It’s what married couples are most likely to fight about, worry about, and fall to pieces over. Researchers analyzing the National Survey of Family and Households determined that “arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce.”

Women, you may have heard, make less money than men, and therefore two women, together, will often have less financial power than a male-male or male-female couple. (They’re also more likely than gay men to want to marry for financial reasons.) According to the 2022 U.S. Census, 8.6% of same-sex female married couples had a household income below $35k, compared to 6% of male-male couples and 8.7% of opposite-sex couples. The median household income of same-sex female couples was $111k, compared to $138.7k for male-male couples and $109.7k for opposite-sex couples.

Children can also add to that financial stress, and 27% of female-female married couples have children in the household, compared to 8.1% of male-male married couples.


In conclusion, love is love and divorce wins!

Divorce Week is a celebration of taking a life-changing step, of coming out the other side of devastating trauma and being all the better for it. It’s co-edited and curated by Nico Hall and Carmen Phillips. Remember, you may be divorced, but you’re not alone.

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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3178 articles for us.

6 Comments

    • i knowwwww it would be so delightfully chaotic! my assumption is that they’re not sure how to construct the show without having like, the girls house and the boys house because if everyone is dating each other they cannot intermingle, but surely there’s a way to make the show work without that dynamic at play!

    • “Monogamous” does not mean “lifelong”, though it may be implied to be so by people who idealize both. It’s possible to be monogamous (in the sense of only bonding sexually and/or romantically with only one person at a time) without it being for life, in fact it’s rather common when no-fault divorce is legal. It’s also possible to be in a lifelong polyamorous relationship, but it’s very unusual for that to happen with every single one of your partners.

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this. As a data nerd, you literally answered all of my questions in the order they arose WITH sources, and I was delighted. Thank you, as always, for the combo of
    research and entertainment!

  2. I don’t think this is all that tricky. In heterosexual marriages the statics are clear that majority of divorces are initiated by the women. People who are neurotic are generally irritable and women score higher on the neurotic scale then men. So higher odds of divorce in a lesbian relationship.

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