What Your Job Says About Who You’ll Marry

From a Washington Post analysis by Andrew Van Dam headlined “What does your job say about whom you’ll marry”:

In a recent column, we measured which college majors were most likely to marry their own kind. This prompted our friend and fellow Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein to ask on behalf of his lawyer dad what the same data would show for professions. His lawyer mom was curious, too.

As Jeff and his folks may have guessed, lawyers rank in the top five for marrying within their own profession, at least among the 52 occupations for which we have sufficient data. The top spot goes to medical doctors, according to our analysis of responses to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey over the past decade.

In fact, most of the top-ranked professions require advanced degrees. Dentists and pharmacists are right behind lawyers. And if we had enough data, indications are good that optometrists and veterinarians would rank right up there, too.

What does this tell us about (a) ultra-demanding careers and (b) romance? Could it be that the grueling hours and shared challenges of advanced study help form romantic bonds? Or might those things crowd out other romantic opportunities and narrow the range of potential partners to those trapped in the same gilded cage?

The latter seems true of medical doctors, almost 1 in 5 of whom marry within the profession. Between medical school and residency, most doctors are trapped in the postgrad crucible until their early 30s. Given that prime marrying age in America is 28 for women and 30 for men, doctors are likely to be looking for love when they have the least time to find a spouse outside the workplace.

Most common job-to-job marriages

What if we look at people who marry outside their profession? The headline news: Firefighters apparently have a type. About 1 in 10 firefighters have married a registered nurse, making it the busiest interprofessional marriage pipeline.

In part, this stems from both job ubiquity and lopsided gender ratios: Along with registered nurse, teacher is one of the most common occupations in our data set. And both jobs are among the most heavily female — 89 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Firefighters and police officers, by contrast, are among the most male-dominated professions at 96 percent and 84 percent, respectively.

Because most marriages in the United States are still between men and women, folks in jobs with a major gender imbalance are more likely to marry outside the profession. And numbers dictate that popular male-dominated jobs will tend to pair
off with popular female-dominated jobs.

Still, even taking all that into account, firefighters are super duper likely to marry registered nurses. Nurses aren’t nearly as likely to marry firefighters, of course, since nurses far outnumber firefighters.

Elementary and middle school teachers, meanwhile, have a host of options. They are a common target of cross-professional marriages, pursued by high school teachers, school administrators and civil engineers.

Workers with stay-at-home spouses

Perhaps surprisingly in this era of two-income households, the most common job for spouses still tends to be none at all.

Male-dominated, blue-collar sectors — extraction, construction, farming — all rank near the top among professions most likely to marry a stay-at-home spouse. But No. 1 is the military, where nearly half of all marriages involve a spouse who is not working.

Sue Hoppin, founder and president of the National Military Spouse Network, has seen this firsthand during 16 years of military-spouse advocacy — and as the wife of an Air Force officer. Military spouses navigate the job market on hard mode compared with peers married to civilians, Hoppin said: Every step is difficult.

It’s tough to look for jobs outside your current city, since there’s little chance Uncle Sam will let your spouse follow. Prospective employers may assume you’re a short-timer because they know the government could ask you to move at any time.

If you do manage to get hired, you can distinguish yourself through the loyalty and initiative Hoppin says are typical of military spouses. But by the time you’re up for a promotion, odds are good your marriage will require you to shuffle off to an installation in a different state or country.

And then, of course, there’s child care. Service members typically are in their 20s and 30s — prime age for parenthood. But their demanding jobs often leave their spouses to care for their young children, likely on an installation far from family and friends who could help.

“The overarching challenge faced by military spouses is the continual relocation,” said Navy Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Defense Department spokeswoman. “Military families relocate every two to three years, on average, generally across state lines and sometimes overseas.”

The recent rise of remote work may create more flexibility for military spouses, Schwegman said. She noted that the Pentagon offers a raft of programs to help spouses facing relocation, including career coaching, a training and education subsidy of up to $4,000 and an employment program that connects trailing spouses to job listings from hundreds of corporate partners.

The government also subsidizes child care for military families, and it is piloting in-home child care subsidies in 11 locations. But child-care options on installations can be oversubscribed or limited, Hoppin said. And nothing, she said, can ease the stress of being left to parent solo while your loved one is deployed abroad to face potentially serious danger.

To be sure, military spouses typically have access to affordable health insurance through Tricare, removing one huge incentive to find a job under the American system of predominantly employer-provided health care. But Schwegman said most military families prefer two incomes. And, as Hoppin pointed out, Tricare doesn’t provide retirement savings, a salary or other benefits a job might yield.

When we move beyond broad job classifications and look at industrial sectors, we find that Marine Corps and Army spouses are the least likely to work for pay, with about half either staying home by choice or unsuccessfully job-hunting.

Navy and Air Force spouses are slightly more likely to work, but they are still extraordinarily likely to be unemployed compared with civilian spouses. Only the spouses of coal miners and oil and gas industry workers come close.

Marriages mismatched by education

Reader Michael Wood of Buffalo asked a related question, inspired by observations made on his journey to a PhD in nuclear physics: Who is most likely to match with a more-educated spouse?

Well, Dr. Wood, we’ll start with a simple observation: The least-educated Americans — those with a high school diploma or less — are most likely to marry someone at the same education level. About half marry someone with the same diploma status, compared with about 40 percent of people with bachelor’s degrees and 30 percent of people with master’s degrees.

Despite slight differences by race and gender, the education of your spouse seems to depend largely on your own education. More-educated people tend to match with more-educated spouses. And while people with less education are more likely to “marry up,” that’s just a numbers game: If you’re a high school dropout, you’ll have more options for a more-educated spouse than, for example, a nuclear physicist who chairs the Quantitative Sciences Department at Buffalo’s Canisius College.

If we wander a bit deeper into the land of subtle differences, we can measure how likely someone is to find a more-educated spouse.

A man without a college degree is more likely to “marry up.” But when both partners have at least a college degree, women become more likely to marry someone with more education.

One important note: This data reflects the highest degree someone earned in a lifetime, not the degree they had on their wedding day. So while it shows who ultimately married up, it also offers insight into who may have helped a partner chase their dreams — and by “dreams” we mean “ever-growing stack of diplomas.”

Andrew Van Dam writes the Department of Data column each week for The Washington Post. He has covered economics and wrangled data and graphics for The Post and the Wall Street Journal.

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