Physicians Have Lower Divorce Rate Than Other Professionals

Pam Harrison

February 26, 2015

Divorce among US physicians is no more common than among other healthcare professions; in fact, physician divorce rates are substantially lower than divorce rates among nurses, healthcare executives, lawyers, and other nonhealthcare professionals, census survey data indicate.

Dan Ly, MD, from Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues found that divorce prevalence, defined as the percentage of people who reported ever being divorced at the time of the survey, was lower among physicians than among most other occupations. They published their results online February 18 in the BMJ.

After being adjusted for covariates, the prevalence of divorce among physicians was 24.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], 23.8% - 24.8%). By comparison, divorce prevalence was 25.2% (95% CI, 24.1% - 26.3%) among dentists, 22.9% (95% CI, 22.0% - 23.8%) among pharmacists, 33.0% (95% CI, 32.6% - 33.3%) among nurses, 30.9% (95% CI, 30.1% - 31.8%) among healthcare executives, and 26.9% (95% CI, 26.4% - 27.4%) among lawyers.

The prevalence of divorce among other nonhealth-healthcare professionals was 35.0% (95% CI, 34.9% - 35.1%).

The prevalence and incidence of divorce was based on a retrospective analysis of nationally representative surveys conducted by the US census between 2008 and 2013. Participants included 48,881 physicians, 10,086 dentists, 13,883 pharmacists, 159,044 nurses, 18,920 healthcare executives, 59,284 lawyers, and 6,339,310 other nonhealthcare professionals.

"Similarly, physicians were less likely than those in most other occupations to divorce in the past year," the researchers write.

For example, barely more than 1% of physicians had divorced in the year before the survey.

This rate was higher than that for dentists, but it was statistically indistinguishable or lower than that for all other occupations examined.

Physicians were also less likely to have been married more than once by the time of the survey compared with all other occupations examined, with the exception of pharmacists, the researchers add.

However, when the researchers analyzed the data based on sex, they found that female physicians were significantly more likely to have been divorced than their male peers (odds ratio, 1.51; 95% CI, 1.40 - 1.63).

Among female physicians, the number of hours worked per week was also positively associated with the probability of ever being divorced, with female physicians working 40 to 49 hours a week having a 34% higher probability (odds ratio, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.16 - 1.54) of ever being divorced compared with female physicians who worked less than 40 hours a week.

In contrast, male physicians who worked more than 40 hours a week had a 23% lower risk of ever being divorced than male physicians who worked less than 40 hours a week.

"The demanding nature of physicians' work has led to several historical investigations in the United States of whether divorce is more common among physicians than among other professionals," the authors write.

"Despite often reported conflicts between professional obligations and family life, we found no evidence that physicians in the United States have a higher prevalence or incidence of divorce than other healthcare and non-healthcare professionals," they conclude.

The study was supported by the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

BMJ. 2015:350:h706. Full text

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