Divorce risk rises with proportion of opposite-sex individuals at work


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Until the latter half of the twentieth century, divorce was considered scandalous and taboo, a dirty secret to be swept under the rug. But, as the years passed, the public’s perception of divorce has gradually shifted into an almost casual fact of day to day life. For instance, in the United States, about 48% of marriages end in divorce within 20 years.

There are various factors that influence the rate of divorce, among them are age, income, education, and — according to a new study published in the journal Biology Letters — the gender-ratio at the workplace.

Researchers at the University of Stockholm combed through Danish register data on individuals who married during 1981–2002 and actively worked in this period. After controlling for age at and duration of marriage, education, and parity, the researchers found that “a higher proportion of opposite-sex individuals in one’s occupational sector is associated with higher divorce risk.” These findings held for both genders, although the association was more significant for men and varies by education.

The sectors associated with the highest divorce risks for both men and women are the hotel and restaurant and manpower sectors, while low divorce risks are found among men and women in farming, pharmaceutical, and library sectors. The association was twice as strong among men with the highest level of formal education as it was among those with the lowest level. Interestingly, among women “the relationship is reversed and highly educated women have barely any increase in divorce risk in more male-biased sectors,” the researchers reported.

“Especially high divorce risks—for both sexes—in the hotel and restaurant sector and low risks in the library and farming sectors might be due to different personality types seeking to work in such sectors, different levels of stress in the work environment or the level of interpersonal interactions,” the authors wrote.

Excluding the influence of workplace gender-ratio, the researchers uncovered some interesting general patterns of divorce among the Danish population.

  • The divorce rate was 40% lower for people who married after age 40 than those who married between the age of 16 and 22.
  • People outside of Copenhagen, the capital and largest city in the country, had a 30% lower risk of divorce than those living within the city’s limits.
  • Highly education people had a 50% lower divorce risk than those with a lower education.

The findings are correlative, meaning there’s no reason to believe that a person who works alongside many individuals of the opposite sex will necessarily break their marriage. On the other hand, the association is significant. It may be that an abundance of members of the opposite sex may be just too tempting for some people, and cheating is one of the main reasons why marriages fall apart. Regarding the education-bias, it may be that men feel more attracted to women with similar educational backgrounds. For women, this doesn’t seem to be nearly as important.

Another caveat that readers ought to be aware of is that the study is limited to Danish individuals, so the association between divorce rate and workplace gender-ratios might not hold among other populations.

“Many studies of relationship stability and sector or workplace sex ratios come from a US context, where costs and benefits of divorce as well as selection into female labour-force participation may differ from the Nordic context. We have shown that even in the egalitarian Danish setting, there is a slight gender difference as the sector sex ratio appears more strongly associated with divorce among men than women, and is barely noticeable for highly educated women. Future research should explore both partners’ alternative partner options simultaneously to uncover what
circumstances lead to divorce,” the researchers concluded.

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