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Women doctors are more likely to divorce than their male counterparts

For decades, it was presumed that doctors divorced at higher rates than the general public. As detailed on the Harvard Medical School news site, many speculated that physicians were "more likely to be divorced...because of the long hours they keep and the stress associated with the job."

However, a recent study published in The BMJ (once known as The British Medical Journal) offers evidence to the contrary. While the divorce rate for workers outside the health care industry hovers around 35 percent, doctors had only a 24 percent likelihood of divorce. Similar professions carried similar rates - 23 percent for pharmacists and 25 percent for dentists (and 27 percent for lawyers).

The numbers, though, were drastically higher for women than for men.

Why the discrepancy exists

The study analyzed survey responses from a group of roughly 250,000 health professionals - doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, and industry executives - as well as 6 million other adults. In deciphering their data, the researchers posit that the low divorce rate among doctors may arise from the fact that many of them marry later in life, which is known to decrease the likelihood of divorce (because there are fewer years of marriage).

However, the numbers for women doctors were less promising (in terms of staying married). Namely, female physicians were about one-and-a-half times more likely to divorce than their male counterparts. "We believe that the higher incidence of divorce among female physicians stems from the greater tradeoffs they are forced to make to achieve work/life balance," the study's lead author said. "More research is needed to understand whether that interpretation is indeed accurate."

Assumptions nevertheless reversed

The study's authors view their findings as both a blessing and a warning. "If you're a doctor, don't worry about high divorce rates overall because of the stress of the job," one of the researchers commented. "But if you're a female doctor it's certainly something to be cognizant about." While the findings offer some reassurance to the medical field, the researcher went on, they raise questions about how well women practitioners are supported.

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