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Divorce Rate for Police Officers

What Does the Research Really Say About Cops and Divorce?

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Police officer with his hat looking down
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It has long been a widely held belief that law enforcement careers lead to higher divorce rates then do other occupations. Many law enforcement agencies, when hiring new recruits or officers, will go so far as to ask candidates to sign a statement acknowledging that they're aware of the greater potential for divorce before they're hired.

This belief has been proliferated for so long and so far that it has been taken and cited as an indisputable fact. A simple internet search for "police" and "divorce" will quickly and succinctly show how pervasive the theory has become.

Divorce Rate Among Law Enforcement is Lower

Amazingly, though, when the data was actually compiled and analyzed, researchers discovered that the opposite is true. Police officers actually have a divorce rate that is lower than the national average and, in fact, are closer to the bottom of the list when it comes to the correlation between occupations and divorce.

Perceptions Persist

There are several reasons why people have accepted the notion that divorce rates are high among police officers. One of the most often cited thoughts is that the stress of the job contributes to destabilizing life at home.

Many people, including those in the industry, think that law enforcement officers are exposed to a much higher and different kind of stress than those in other professions. The difficulty associated with handling those stresses is regarded as a major reason for the perceived higher rate of divorce.

Another often-cited reason people believe divorce is higher among law enforcement professionals is that the shift work and odd hours cause problems at home. When mom or dad isn't home at night to help with chores and children or spouses aren't around to spend quality time with, it can cause strains in relationships and, as conventional wisdom has it, lead to divorce. It's also believed that law enforcement occupations attract and employ personality types that are prone to divorce and relationship problems.

Against Conventional Wisdom

Researchers at Radford University in Virginia poured over data from the 2000 census and came to a very different conclusion: the divorce rate among law enforcement officers is no higher than the national average. In truth, they found that the divorce rate for police is lower than average.

Divorce Rates Across Occupations

The national average for divorce across all occupations was 16.96 percent, compared to 14.47 percent for law enforcement careers. Interestingly, the data showed the divorce rate to be 15.01 percent for police and patrol officers, as opposed to just over 12 percent for both detectives and police supervisors.

The criminal justice jobs with the highest divorce rates were animal control officers at 19.02 percent, fish and game wardens at 25.53 percent, and parking enforcement officers at 26.25 percent. The law enforcement occupation with the lowest divorce rate was railroad transit police at 5.26 percent.

If the conventional wisdom that police officers have a higher divorce rate than most is wrong, what are the occupations that seem to be most prone to divorce? Based on the 2000 census data, the five jobs with the highest rate of divorce are machine setters, gaming cage (casino) workers, massage therapists and, topping the list, dancers and choreographers.

When comparing the numbers, law enforcement jobs don't even come close. The top five occupations for divorce showed rates between 32 and 43 percent, compared to the 14 percent for criminal justice workers.

Good News for Law Enforcement Officers

Those people who are considering a career in law enforcement have a lot of things to think about and consider. Now, however, they can take solace in the fact that, contrary to popular belief, the elevated divorce rate doesn't have to be one of them. In fact, if the researchers' data are correct, a law enforcement career may even lead to greater success both at work and at home.

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