Catholic psychologists discuss implications of new study on jobs and divorce

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons

.- Earlier this year, a psychological journal published a groundbreaking study on possible links between divorce rates and various careers and occupations. The survey by professors Shawn McCoy and Michael Aamodt was among the first to break down divorce statistics in 449 different fields. Two notable Catholic psychologists spoke to CNA about what the findings could mean, and how job stress can affect family life.

The study, published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, found that among some performing artists, especially dancers and choreographers, rates of divorce were highest at almost 45 percent. Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Institute for Marital Healing, responded that he was not surprised by the high rates of divorce in the performing arts. While not criticizing individual artists, he noted that “such careers tend to foster selfishness … the major enemy of marital love.”

Low divorce rates – around 5 to 6 percent - were reported for optometrists and podiatrists. But members of many other types of medical “caregiving” professions, such as nurses and home health aides, were among the likeliest to divorce, ranking alongside bartenders and casino workers.

Fitzgibbons noted that women, who become medical caregivers more often than men, initiate two-thirds of all divorces. But he also pointed to other factors which could create marital difficulty for both men and women in caregiving and other service industries, such as job stress and unusual hours.

“Those who work in the evenings are a distinct disadvantage,” he observed, “because the marital friendship usually suffers, with ensuing significant loneliness.”

Both of the experts consulted by CNA agreed that the study's results could signify a looming “marriage crisis” among men and women without college diplomas, who support themselves and their families with lower-skilled and lower-paying lines of work.

Fr. Charles Shelton, a Jesuit priest and psychologist who has written several books on maintaining a balanced personal and family life, told CNA that individuals who are habitually unhappy with their work – often those in low-paying, low-skilled professions - may transfer this dissatisfaction to their spouse and children. A disappointing or frustrating job, he said, can lead to “immature defenses such as displacement onto others,” especially one's family members. 

“I think the American dream is closing for many people,” Fr. Shelton observed, noting that “the competition for jobs will only add more stress” upon individuals and their spouses. Fitzgibbons also singled out the “marked decrease in good blue-collar jobs for men” as an underlying cause of divorce.

Fitzgibbons also called attention to employers' responsibility to be mindful of their employees' family lives-- not as a luxury, but as the foundation of society. “Employers,” he emphasized, “should commit themselves more to the common good and the virtue of solidarity rather than to greed.”

Fr. Shelton envisioned the Catholic Church's ministries as a source of strength for married couples in the face of a difficult economy and sometimes dismal career prospects. “Ideally,” he said, “parishes would have centers where people could gather and have support groups,” for the faithful to receive guidance and support one another in work and family life.

One of the original authors of the study on jobs and divorce told the Washington Post that the study could not answer the question, “Why are bartenders this way and engineers” --who have an especially low divorce rate-- “that way?”

But Fitzgibbons stressed that, no matter what the statistics imply, an authentic marriage can always succeed with God's grace. He advised all couples to remember that marriage is ultimately “supported more by God's love, than by their own love.”


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