By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; E14
If you marry the charming dancer who asks for your hand, are you more likely to wind up in divorce court than if you'd picked the sensible engineer?
That seems to be the suggestion of a recent study that explores the correlation of various occupations and rates of separation and divorce -- raising questions about the way our careers can impact our personal lives.
The study, published in the spring edition of the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, was co-written by Michael Aamodt, a professor emeritus at Radford University who now works as a consultant with the Washington-based DCI Consulting Group.
At first, Aamodt wasn't interested in the romantic lives of either dancers or engineers. Much of his academic career has been spent researching the personalities of law enforcement officers. In previous studies Aamodt debunked a myth about higher-than-average suicide rates among police officers and showed that most cops have personality traits similar to those of other Americans.
Turning to their domestic lives, however, he found statistics about divorce rates based on occupation hard to come by. Student Shawn P. McCoy, co-author of the study, pressed Census officials to provide data that could be parsed to reveal divorce and separation rates for Americans working in 449 jobs.
At the time of the 2000 Census, 16.35 percent of Americans who had previously been married listed themselves as divorced or separated.
Only 14.5 percent of law enforcement officers who had been married said the same. (The rates varied widely across the profession, though: Just 12.5 percent of detectives were divorced, but 25.5 percent of fish and game wardens had broken up with a spouse.)
Dancers and choreographers registered the highest divorce rates (43.1 percent), followed by bartenders (38.4 percent) and massage therapists (38.2 percent). Also in the top 10 were casino workers, telephone operators, nurses and home health aides.
Three types of engineers -- agricultural, sales and nuclear engineers -- were represented among the 10 occupations with the lowest divorce rates. Also reporting low marital breakup rates were optometrists (4 percent), clergy (5.6 percent) and podiatrists (6.8 percent).
The numbers don't paint a complete picture. If a person had divorced and remarried by the time of the Census, they would be counted as married. So it could be the case that people in some occupations are just quicker to jump into the next marriage than others.
The authors also point out that the data don't reveal whether it's the nature of the jobs that lead to divorce, or if people prone to unstable relationships are drawn to certain professions.
Terri Orbuch, a sociologist and director of a long-term study on marriage funded by the National Institutes of Health, thinks that our working lives can directly affect our home lives.
"One of the things I found is that job stress spills over into our relationships. It can be not getting along with our colleagues or our boss . . . or the actual amount of time that we need to spend at work or doing work at home that spills over and affects our marriages negatively," says Orbuch, author of "5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great."
Aamodt knows his study raises more questions than it answers. Chief among them: Why?
"Why are bartenders this way and engineers that way? Unfortunately we just don't know," he says, before adding that several of his graduate students are looking into it.
But for now, perhaps this is reason enough to give that engineer a second glance.