What profession has the highest divorce rate in the United States?

There are a few ways to answer this question. First, we'll look at specific professions and their relative divorce rates, per information from the United States Census. To get the best possible information, we'll also look at industries as a whole.

Frustrated female flight attendant on an empty airplane

It's important to note that the U.S. Census hasn't published any recent working papers directly dealing with this subject, but because the Census makes its data available online, some independent analysts have tried to find answers. Nathan Yau's analysis for Flowing Data is one of the most comprehensive.

Here are the professions with the highest divorce rates, per Yau's research. The number next to each occupation is the five-year divorce rate, expressed as a percentage, for people who had been married at least once:

  1. Gaming Management (52.9 percent)
  2. Bartenders (52.7 percent)
  3. Flight Attendants (50.5 percent)
  4. Gaming Services Workers (50.3 percent)
  5. Rolling Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic (50.1 percent)
  6. Switchboard Operators, Including Answering Service (49.7 percent)
  7. Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic (49.6 percent)
  8. Telemarketers (49.2 percent)
  9. Textile Knitting and Weaving Machine Operators (48.9 percent)
  10. Extruding, Forming, Pressing, and Compacting Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders (48.8 percent)

Some of those occupations seem a little, well, unusual—you probably haven't met an "extruding machine setter" recently. The Census has a restricted number of occupation descriptions, so some occupations aren't reflected in the numbers, and some occupations are probably overrepresented in these figures as a result. A small sample size can drastically affect this type of data; if only a few thousand people describe themselves as "rolling machine setters" and a few hundred of them have had divorces in recent years, the divorce rate for that occupation will seem unusually high.

With that in mind, we should also look at industry divorce rates, as they might provide a better answer to your question. Here are the top 25 divorce rates by industry:

  1. Office and Administrative Support (40.61 percent)
  2. Transportation and Material Moving (40.58 percent)
  3. Protective Services (40.08 percent)
  4. Personal Care and Service (39.57 percent)
  5. Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Workers (39.28 percent)
  6. Healthcare Support (39.25 percent)
  7. Production (38.99 percent)
  8. Sales (38.26 percent)
  9. Building and Grounds Cleaning (37.87 percent)
  10. Food Preparation and Serving (37.48 percent)
  11. Extraction Workers (37.36 percent)
  12. Construction and Extraction (36.58 percent)
  13. Business Operations (36.04 percent)
  14. Management (35.75 percent)
  15. Arts and Entertainment (35.28 percent)
  16. Legal (35.08 percent)
  17. Finance (33.89 percent)
  18. Farming, Fishing, and Forestry (33.09 percent)
  19. Community and Social Services (32.58 percent)
  20. Healthcare (31.65 percent)
  21. Education and Library (30.13 percent)
  22. Life, Physical, and Social Science (28.49 percent)
  23. Military (28.33 percent)
  24. Computers and Mathematics (27.66 percent)
  25. Architecture and Engineering (27.54 percent)

High divorce rate occupations share some features.

Correlation doesn't equal causation. Bartender divorce rates are high, but that doesn't mean that the occupation itself causes people to get divorced—it's possible that the type of people who choose to be bartenders are more likely to have shaky marriages (no offense, married bartenders).

With that said, here are some factors that correlate with higher divorce rates that help to put the occupational statistics into perspective:

  • Education Level - Numerous studies have shown that college-educated women are more likely to have long-lasting marriages. Per the National Center for Health Statistics, college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010 had a 78 percent chance of staying married at least 20 years, while women with a high school education or less only had a 41 percent probability of reaching that same milestone.
    With that in mind, it's reasonable to assume that professions with lower educational requirements—for instance, bartenders, flight attendants, and switchboard operators—would also have high divorce rates.
  • Economic Issues - Poverty can put stress on marriage, increasing the chances of divorce. Less than 33 percent of middle- and upper-class men and women who have ever been married have been divorced; for working-class people, that number is closer to 40 percent. Again, high-divorce occupations tend to be relatively low paying, so it's not surprising that these jobs have higher than average divorce rates.
  • Marrying Young - Here's where factors start to overlap. When people get married young, they're more likely to divorce, and some industries tend to attract people who marry young. Military personnel, for instance, have higher marriage rates at younger ages than the general population, and military careers have relatively high divorce rates.
  • Occupational Stress - Here's a shocker: Intense work schedules and high stress levels can make relationships more difficult.
    Many of the occupations listed above are relatively stressful or require workers to manage their schedules in unconventional ways. Gaming managers and bartenders often work night shifts, for example, and telemarketers certainly have stressful jobs. Sometimes, it's difficult to leave all of that stress at the office.
  • Remember, divorce statistics can be tricky, so don’t use them to evaluate your personal relationships. With that said, by looking at occupational divorce rates, we can draw some interesting conclusions about the factors that lead to a happy—or unhappy—marriage.