PITTSBURGH, March 12, 1997 — Divorce rates among physicians vary according to specialty and psychological traits. However, they are not affected by a host of other factors, including gender, that were previously thought to be relevant, according to a study by Bruce L. Rollman, M.D., M.P.H., University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, published in the March 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The overall cumulative rate of divorce among 1,118 physicians was 29 percent by 30 years of marriage. Dr. Rollman found that psychiatrists had the highest rate of divorce, 50 percent, followed by surgeons, 33 percent. Internists, pediatricians and pathologists had comparable (and lower) rates ranging from 22 to 24 percent. After adjusting for a variety of influences, psychiatrists and surgeons had 2.7 and 1.7 times higher risk of divorce than internists, respectively. The study found that the mean age of first marriage was 26 years, the mean age at time of divorce was 42 years.
Some psychological variables also proved important. Physicians who scored in the highest quarter on a test measuring anger had a 44 percent incidence of divorce compared with 27 percent for the rest of the study group. Perceiving oneself as having been less emotionally close with one's parents also was associated with higher rates of divorce.
The study found the later the calendar year of marriage the greater the risk of divorce, a finding parallel to trends in the general population, providing additional validity for study results.
But Dr. Rollman's study debunked other factors previously thought to affect divorce among physicians, including gender, depression, religion, medical school class rank, being an only child, parental history of divorce and having a parent or parents who were physicians. While female physicians had a higher absolute incidence of divorce (37 percent versus 28 percent), after adjusting for other factors (such as specialty) female physicians had the same risk of divorce as male physicians.
Dr. Rollman drew on the well-documented Johns Hopkins Precursors Study, which tracked 1,337 people who entered the Johns Hopkins University School from 1944 through 1960. The demographics of the group included only eight percent female physicians, only two percent Asians and no African-Americans. Excluding those who did not graduate, as well as those for whom marital and divorce information was incomplete, Dr. Rollman's study was based on 1,118 married physicians.
Dr. Rollman is assistant professor of medicine, Center for Research on Health Care in the division of General Internal Medicine. His major areas of research interests are patient adherence with healthcare recommendations, dissemination of clinical practice guidelines and treatment for major depression in primary care settings.
Dr. Rollman's colleagues in the study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were Lucy A. Mead, Sc.M., Nae-Yuh Wang, M.S., and Michael J. Klag, M.P.H.