Men are six times more likely to leave the woman who gets cancer than women are likely to leave a man receiving that diagnosis.[1] Furthermore, the older the woman the more likely she is to be deserted or abandoned after a cancer finding; according to a study of 515 patients at three medical centers from 2001 to 2006.


            “Why men leave a sick spouse can be partly explained by their lack of ability, compared to women, to make more rapid commitments to being caregivers to a sick partner and women’s better ability to assume the burdens of maintaining a home and family, the study authors said.” Medical News Today, November 11, 2009.


            Without discounting that explanation, I believe two other causes are equally plausible:


1.     Men are less committed to marriage for evolutionary advantage. It is possible that men (not just male humans, but many other male mammals as well) have a greater species-propagation opportunity in leaving a mate whose fertility is implicated than do females. This would explain why the study revealed older women discovering cancer are at an even greater percentage risk of partner-abandonment than women who are younger.


2.     In addition, men are far more likely to get overwhelmed by stress and act badly than are women. We know men are less proficient at processing strong emotion. Perhaps as a result, men have significantly greater odds than women of possessing “type A” personalities; engaging in aggressive driving; committing violent crimes; taking their own lives; and going “postal”.


     Finally, I offer a note of caution about tabulating sexual disparities in relationship abandonment and desertion. It is deceptively easy to identify one sex or the other as being the first to leave or file a complaint. But if you probe more deeply, you often find that the spouse who truly ended the marriage is the one who denied sex or ceased communicating; and that is not necessarily the person who first moved out of the marital home or passed through the courthouse door.


[1] "Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness," Cancer, 15 November 2009.