Dr. Jena has a quibble with the other researchers. According to Jenna, the other studies from 2015 that I mentioned earlier, (Monster.com and Flowing Data), did not use “Big Data.”
As a result, their numbers (i.e. Monster.com showing physicians at 21.8% vs the 24% “Big Data” sample) may be less accurate.
When you look at the data closely, however, there is a gender difference among physicians. Female physicians have a significantly higher divorce rate than male doctors.
To be specific, female doctors are about one-and-a-half times more likely to get divorced than male physicians of a similar age cohort.
Jena posited that women physicians may be forced to make more difficult work-life balance choices. But, considering the fact that most divorces are initiated by women, this finding is no surprise.
Which of You Works Long Hours Matters…
“Females traditionally bear more of the household and child-rearing responsibilities on average, and female physicians, if they have to do both that and maintain a job as a physician, that could lead to a lot of stress and lead to higher rates of divorce… For women physicians, they appear to be essentially getting a raw deal because there is a trade-off they have to make, that unfortunately, the male doctors don’t have to be making.” Anupam Jena.
This is an issue of growing concern. 47% of medical school graduates are women. Jena’s team also discovered that women who worked long hours were more divorce-prone, but male doctors who worked long hours actually had lower divorce rates.
From a research perspective, the problem of higher divorce rates for female doctors is long-standing.
As in the 2015 Big Data Study, the 1997 John Hopkins study also pointed out that female doctors had a higher divorce rate (37%) than their male equivalents (28%).
Jena said his 2015 “Big Data” study also raises questions about the quality and depth of support for female physicians.
“If you’re a doctor, don’t worry about high divorce rates overall because of the stress of the job,” said Jena, “But if you’re a female doctor, it’s certainly something to be cognizant about, that there is this tension between work-life balance that isn’t there for men.”
How The Study Was Conducted
Talk about Big Data! This study was huge!
Jena’s team studied a cohort of nearly 250,000 physicians, health-care executives, dentists, pharmacists, and nurses.
At the same time, they also collected data on nearly 60,000 attorneys and well over 6 million non-health-care professionals. Jena’s team wondered if the tendency of some professionals, such as physicians, to marry later in life, might explain some lower divorce rates. Perhaps fewer years of marriage is skewing the results?
The John Hopkins Divorce Rate and Medical Occupation Study of 1997
Older studies sliced and diced the divorce rate and occupations by medical specialty. For example, a 1997 study from Johns Hopkins followed their medical school graduates over decades. One of the most interesting findings was that those who specialized in psychiatry were much more likely to be divorced than physicians.
The Johns Hopkins study from 1997 compared the psychological characteristics, marriage histories, and medical specialty for over 1000 physicians who graduated from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine between the years 1948 and 1964.
The Hopkins study was longitudinal. They followed these doctors for nearly 40 years.
They seemed to describe two specific factors which impact the divorce rate and occupations of these doctors:
- Job stressors that are inherent in the specialty.
- Family of Origin emotional stressors. Just like everyone else, doctors learn how to be spouses in their family of origin.
The Divorce Rate and Medical Occupations…The 1997 Hopkins Data
31% for other specialties.
The overall divorce rate was nearly 30% after more than 30 years of follow-up. At year 40, the overall medical divorce rate in 1997 was slightly higher at 32%
When You Marry Matters
- Physicians who waited until after graduation from medical school had a significantly lower rate of divorce (23%) than those who married during medical school (33%).
- Whether or not they were an only child, religious affiliation, having a parent who was a physician were not correlated with higher divorce rates.
- Physicians who were members of an academic honor society during their medical school experience had a lower divorce rate.
- Doctors who had a parent pass away before their graduation had a lower divorce rate.
However, the Marriage Year Was Correlated with Divorce Rates:
- 11 % divorce rate for marriages before 1953.
- 17 % for those from 1953 to 1957.
- 24% for those from 1958 to 1962.
- 21% for those after 1962.
Family of Origin Matters
- Doctors who reported feeling less emotionally close to their parents had a higher divorce rate.
- Problems with anger and stress were also correlated with a higher divorce rate.
- However, in the Hopkins Study, anxiety and depression were not correlated with a higher divorce rate.
“Healthy marriages have deep affection, compatibility, expressiveness and conflict resolution, so the higher risk of divorce in those less emotionally close to their parents could be telling. Feeling distant from your parents may indicate a decreased ability to form an intimate relationship with your spouse. Also, marriage after medical school may allow the relationship to develop in a less stressful environment.” The John Hopkins Study.
Limitations to the 1997 Hopkins Study
In 1997 the Hopkins study was eye-opening…but in 2020, it’s a little ripe.
They did a good job following these doctors over their professional lifetimes… but the data stopped flowing 33 years ago.
The Hopkins study is not only dated, it has some other limitations.
While they examined marital histories through 1987, they did not inquire into questions of marital satisfaction.
Also, the vast longitudinal reach of nearly 40 years captures a population of physicians who married during an era (the 40s and 50s) when, unlike today, divorce was highly frowned upon.
Dr. Jena’s “Big Data” research was a welcome update to the Hopkins study.
Mapping External Stressors
During this time of COVID stress, understanding the correlation between the divorce rate and occupation can help couples therapists focus on occupational and workplace issues as significant external stressors.
We may see more shifts in the divorce rate and occupations as a result of COVID. I’m particularly curious about how front-line doctors and nurses are doing.
In other words, before COVID, I think couples therapists tended to be a bit sanguine about workplace stress…perhaps we should look at work-life balance more carefully now, because understanding and mapping external stressors are crucial to effective science-based couples therapy.
Work-Life balance has never been more important. Online couples therapy conserves time and has more flexibility than meeting in person. Now, more than ever, couples are embracing the convenience of doing good couples therapy without leaving home.
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Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. “Physicians’ Divorce Risk May Be Linked To Specialty Choice.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 1997. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/03/970313111952.htm>.
Co-authors of the study, which was part of the Johns Hopkins Precursors Study, an ongoing, prospective study of physicians from the Hopkins medical school graduating classes of 1948 through 1964, were lead author Bruce L. Rollman, M.D., Lucy A. Mead, Sc.M., and Nae-Yuh Wang, M.S.