Divorce and Occupation: How Does Work Affect Divorce Rates?

Divorce and Occupation: How Does Work Affect Divorce Rates?

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Does work affect divorce rates?

You’ve heard the statistic before, maybe even recently: “Half of all marriages end in divorce.”

And while there was a point in time where that was close to the truth (divorce rates peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s, somewhere between 45% and 50%) the percentage of marriages that end in divorce has decreased significantly in recent decades.

In fact, as of 2022, according to data from the American Community Survey, about 18% of respondents who indicated that they had been married at any point were currently divorced — although the percentage of marriages ending in divorce is likely slightly higher due to respondents who have either been divorced multiple times or got remarried prior to answering the survey.

While the dissolution of a marriage is a complex process that is rarely caused by one single inciting factor, work is a frequently cited source of relationship tension. A 2023 Forbes Advisor survey found nearly half of divorcees identifying career choices as one of the major conflicts in their marriages, more than any other factor.

So we analyzed the Census Bureau’s data on employment and marital status in an attempt to better understand how the two are intertwined — whether certain types of workers get divorced more often, which specific jobs have significantly higher (or lower) divorce rates, and how income factors into the equation.

Note: Throughout the rest of this analysis, the term “divorce rate” refers to the number of currently divorced respondents divided by the number of divorced respondents plus the number of currently married respondents. As mentioned above, that likely undercounts the number of divorces by not accounting for multiple divorces, respondents who remarried, or marriages that end in separation or death. But for privacy reasons, not all of those characteristics are determinable through publicly released datasets, so this calculation should serve as a good proxy for the percentage of marriages that had ended in divorce as of survey time.

How does employment status affect divorce rates?

People who were unemployed at the time were more than 30% more likely to be divorced than people who were either actively employed and 20% more likely than those not in the labor force (without a job, but not currently looking for one, according to the Department of Labor).

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that unemployment causes divorce — although it could easily exacerbate other strains that take their toll on a marriage. Less than 2% of the respondents who had ever been married said they were currently unemployed, suggesting that people who are unemployed but looking for work may be less likely to get married in the first place.

 

Of the respondents who were employed as of survey time, divorce rates were slightly higher for private sector employees than for people working for non-profit organizations, the self-employed, and government workers.

What about income?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a negative correlation between income and divorce rate — the higher your income, the less likely you are to end your marriage.

The Census Bureau data shows that divorce rates for respondents making less than $50,000 a year are 70% higher than the rate for those making $100,000 or more, and more than double the rate for respondents earning at least $300,000.

What kind of jobs have particularly high (or low) divorce rates?

The jobs with the highest divorce rates, according to the Census Bureau, include a wide variety of jobs that involve factors like nontraditional schedules, long hours, low pay, and stressful or dangerous conditions.

Of course, a job itself is not the sole cause for a divorce. Bartenders and restaurant servers, for example, don’t have higher divorce rates because anything about the act of making drinks or serving food is inherently harmful to a marriage.

But working night and weekend schedules and relying on tips for part of your income could be a source of stress that exacerbates other issues, especially if money gets tight or your spouse feels like your schedule is incompatible with theirs.

And even within the jobs with the highest divorce rates, there is some correlation between lower income and higher rates, though it’s not as strong a pattern given the smaller sample size of individual occupations.

 

 

Meanwhile, many of the occupations at the low end of the divorce-rate spectrum tend to pay well and have good stability — several jobs in the medical and engineering fields are in the bottom 25, with lawyers, architects, and financial advisors also scoring well.

But you also find jobs associated with religion, where getting divorced may be specifically frowned upon. In fact, petroleum engineers were the only occupation that had a lower rate than that of the clergy as of 2022, while directors of religious activities and education were also among the bottom five.

One interesting point of divergence comes in the form of aviation-related jobs, where nearly 25% of flight attendants who reported having ever been married said that they were divorced, as opposed to just over 8% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers.

The 25 occupations with the highest divorce rates

Rank Occupation Divorced Married Divorce rate
1 Telemarketers 6,648 10,849 38%
2 Bartenders 63,996 144,215 30.7%
3 Metal Furnace Operators, Tenders, Pourers, and Casters 5,151 11,640 30.7%
4 Switchboard Operators, Including Answering Service 4,575 10,912 29.5%
5 Hazardous Materials Removal Workers 4,449 10,635 29.5%
6 Massage Therapists 45,180 108,614 29.4%
7 Hotel, Motel, and Resort Desk Clerks 18,834 46,164 29%
8 Personal Care Aides 306,940 753,893 28.9%
9 Crossing Guards 12,792 31,783 28.7%
10 Telephone Operators 4,946 12,419 28.5%
11 Postal Service Mail Sorters, Processors, and Machine Operators 11,676 30,230 27.9%
12 Interviewers, Except Eligibility and Loan 44,705 116,069 27.8%
13 Residential Advisors 6,337 16,796 27.4%
14 Mail Clerks and Mail Machine Operators, Except Postal Service 11,307 30,088 27.3%
15 Word Processors and Typists 7,572 20,400 27.1%
16 Gaming Services Workers 18,675 50,533 27%
17 Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides 334,107 910,255 26.9%
18 Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses 129,280 354,625 26.7%
19 Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners, nec 8,077 22,583 26.3%
20 Helpers–Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Workers 3,269 9,230 26.2%
21 Pressers, Textile, Garment, and Related Materials 5,305 15,056 26.1%
22 Machine Feeders and Offbearers 5,510 15,683 26%
23 Dishwashers 27,609 78,602 26%
24 First-Line Supervisors of Personal Service Workers 8,620 24,620 25.9%
25 Proofreaders and Copy Markers 2,059 5,983 25.6%

The 25 occupations with the lowest divorce rates

Rank Occupations Divorced Married Divorce rate
1 Petroleum, mining and geological engineers 833 25,423 3.2%
2 Clergy 27,259 429,649 6.0%
3 Atmospheric and Space Scientists 848 11,459 6.9%
4 Astronomers and Physicists 1,153 15,330 7.0%
5 Directors, Religious Activities and Education 5,487 70,117 7.3%
6 Dentists 13,811 166,082 7.7%
7 Physical Scientists, nec 21,478 255,037 7.8%
8 Podiatrists 1,133 13,407 7.8%
9 Physicians and Surgeons 73,574 852,550 7.9%
10 Sales Engineers 3,673 42,494 8.0%
11 Economists and market researchers 2,623 29,918 8.1%
12 Engineers, nec 44,048 494,158 8.2%
13 Chemical Engineers 5,979 66,064 8.3%
14 Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers 15,965 176,396 8.3%
15 Software Developers, Applications and Systems Software 124,792 1,378,512 8.3%
16 Agricultural and Food Scientists 2,410 26,607 8.3%
17 Fire Inspectors 2,187 24,022 8.3%
18 Electrical and Electronics Engineers 19,597 213,458 8.4%
19 First-Line Enlisted Military Supervisors 3,778 40,253 8.6%
20 Architectural and Engineering Managers 19,304 203,716 8.7%
21 Conservation Scientists and Foresters 2,253 23,654 8.7%
22 Mechanical Engineers 24,646 254,860 8.8%
23 Military Officer Special and Tactical Operations Leaders 5,750 59,022 8.9%
24 Optometrists 3,822 38,539 9.0%
25 Marine Engineers and Naval Architects 1,260 12,522 9.1%

Data sources and methodology

Data for this analysis comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey data tables and was retrieved via IPUMS, a collection of government datasets maintained at the University of Minnesota.

We downloaded variables corresponding to employment status (employed vs. unemployed), employment type (private, self employed, etc.), occupation, income, and marital status, and used the weights outlined in the data to extrapolate from the sample respondents to the U.S. population. Occupation groupings come from the Census Bureau’s 2010 ACS occupation classification scheme.

Divorce rates are calculated as the number of people currently divorced divided by an estimate of the number of people in the current population that had ever been married, leaving out marriages that ended in the death of one spouse and separations that have not been finalized as divorces. For the more mathematically inclined, this can also be represented as divorce rate = (currently divorced)/(currently married + currently divorced).