Work sucks, and it impacts pretty much every aspect of your life. What you do for a living can affect your health, happiness, financial security and general stress — and all of that can take a toll on your relationships.
There's no denying that work can be hard on a marriage. But yesterday (Sept. 25), a new study published in the journal Biology Letters asks an interesting question: If you work around lots of co-workers of the opposite sex, are you more likely to get a divorce?
The availability of alternative partners is just one of many factors that relationship scientists link to divorce. Indeed, a 2015 study in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that men who live in communities dominated by women are more likely to favor shorter relationships. According to Caroline Uggla, a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the new study, a big problem with investigations like these is that they don't consider the gender ratios where people spend most of their day, and likely encounter a majority of potential mates: at work. [13 Scientific Signs You're in Love]
To address that scientific shortcoming, Uggla and her colleague Gunnar Andersson (also from Stockholm University) scoured 30 years of Danish population data for links between the gender ratio in various job sectors and divorce rates among those workers.
"We found that having more potential partners in the workplace was associated with higher risk of divorce," Uggla told Live Science. "Interestingly, this relationship varied for men and women. The relationship was stronger for men."
Working hard, or hardly working?
Using data from Statistics Denmark — a government organization that began recording demographic information about the Danish population in 1945 — the researchers compared the relationship and employment histories of hundreds or thousands of Danes. For their sample size, the team looked at any man or woman born in Denmark since 1945, who married an opposite-sex partner between 1981 and 2002, and who held at least one job for any of those years.
Among this massive sample, 102,453 men and 113,252 women reported getting a divorce within that 30-year window. When looking at the commonalities behind these scores of Danish divorcees, the researchers controlled for known risk factors such as age of marriage, education level and number of children. Instead, they focused on the jobs.
According to the data, men who worked in fields dominated by other men — such as construction — showed a noticeably lower risk of divorce than women who worked in those same fields. Conversely, the more women in a man's job sector, the more likely he was to get a divorce.
Overall, the job sectors that showed the highest divorce risk for both men and women were also those that required the most social interaction: hotels and restaurants. On the flip side, folks with the lowest risk of divorce worked as farmers or librarians.
However, while the overall trend proved true for both genders, men who worked around lots of women were ultimately more likely to get a divorce than women who worked around lots of men.
"It might be cultural, but it's more accepted for men to enter a new partnership and get a divorce," Uggla said. "Or it might be that men, for some reason, are more inclined to respond to that opportunity [of more potential mates] than women."
Uggla and Andersson also noticed an education component to work-related divorce risk among both men and women. It seemed that college-educated men faced a much higher risk of divorce in female-dominated fields than men with less education did. For women, the reverse was true.
Should we all be librarians?
Any study based purely on data leaves room for multiple interpretations. One might be that many female-dominated fields, such as nursing, tend to be associated with lower income than many male-dominated fields, and that factor is affecting the divorce risk, not the availability of potential partners. A married man who works full time as a nurse might be faced with social and financial stressors that could have an impact on his marriage, Uggla suggested. [13 Facts on the History of Marriage]
According to Eli Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, Uggla and Andersson's findings do agree with decades of relationship research. "Any study like this is subject to alternative explanations, but these findings align with the broader research literature, which makes the authors' interpretation of their results quite plausible," Finkel told Live Science in an email. "This is an impressive study, especially in terms of the massive participant sample."
Ultimately, though, there's only so much that surveys can tell us. Each person's situation will be a little different, and the available data cannot account for things like financial security, stress levels or personality. More work needs to be done to truly tease out the links between work and divorce.
Or, as Uggla put it, "We need more detailed, qualitative research to say what characteristics about librarians in Denmark lead to lower divorce risks."
(Note: This study only accounted for opposite-sex marriages. Same-sex unions, known as "registered partnerships," were first legally recognized in Denmark in 1989, while same-sex marriages were officially legalized in 2012. Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex partnerships.)
Originally published on Live Science.