Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nuclear Engineers and Marriage:

At the Top of the List

I was intrigued by a report in the Washington Post a couple of months ago on divorce rates by profession. With Valentine's Day just ahead of us, I thought it would be a nice time to discuss the report. What startled me most was that the study actually called out "nuclear engineers" as a category. When you think about it, nuclear engineers are such a small number compared to other engineering disciplines--civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical--that we often get lost in the noise. I've read many a salary survey where I didn't find nuclear engineers identified and had to make a guess at which larger engineering group we most closely mirrored.

However, there it was. A study of divorce and separation rates for Americans in 449 job categories, and nuclear engineering was one of them.

The study used 2000 census data to identify Americans who listed themselves as divorced or separated, and categorized them by occupation. Three types of engineers--agricultural, sales, and nuclear engineers--were among the 10 occupations with the lowest divorce rates. While the news article did not give numbers for nuclear engineers, I dug a little further and found a briefing on the subject that lists nuclear engineers 9th with a divorce rate of 7.29%.

The article speculates that the numbers could be an artifact of the methodology. Someone who divorced and remarried quickly within the census period would show up as married and would not be counted in the divorced/separated statistic. However, I also recall one of my MIT reunions where someone did one of those usual surveys. The divorce question was included (and was worded such that any divorce would count, even if the classmate had remarried), and the class was below average in the number of divorces in a group that size. Now, in that case, the group was not just nuclear engineers, but it was mostly people with technical educations and careers, so I imagine there is a correlation.

I am not quite sure what to make of this. In the interests of full disclosure, I am a nuclear engineer still happily married to an electrical engineer, and being an old romantic, certainly like hearing about this statistic. However, I do realize this is a limited statistic. It doesn't say people are happier. Perhaps they're just more stubborn. I certainly know married people who are unhappy with their marriages and divorced people who are happy with their decisions to divorce. Therefore, I don't want to attribute too much significance to one measure. Still, as Valentine's Day approaches, it is nice to see nuclear engineers near the top of the list about marriage!


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