A few years back, a journal article entitled Teaching May Be Hazardous to Your Marriage was published.1 This article reported a study showing that men who teach at the high school and college levels have a significantly increased likelihood of being divorced or separated compared to guys in other occupations (the same finding did not hold true for women). The researchers interpreted this finding as evidence that being exposed to teenage women on a regular basis is harmful to men’s marriages by creating a contrast effect. That is, male professors are thought to be more inclined to divorce because their wives don’t look as good in comparison to the teenage beauties who populate their classrooms on a daily basis. The title of this paper and the language used by the authors (who repeatedly mention the “real consequences” of working in higher education) imply that people who are married to male teachers might want to start sending their husbands to work with blindfolds on. But is there really any cause for alarm?
Based on my reading of this study, I’d say you’re probably safe leaving your blindfold in the nightstand where it belongs, at least until there’s more definitive evidence. Keep in mind that this research is correlational, which means we do not know what caused male teachers to have a higher probability of divorce. Is it because they were surrounded by more young and attractive people? Maybe. But this study didn’t assess the attractiveness or age of the students or consider the type of teaching environment in which the men worked—the researchers simply lumped 306 male teachers together into one large group and looked at their likelihood of divorce relative to women and people in other professions. Many of these men may have worked in all male or male-dominated schools, some may have worked with non-traditional students or in distance-learning, and others (particularly the college professors) may have worked primarily in research and did little in the way of teaching. The authors of this study also didn’t consider field of study, and we know that some fields usually have a lot of male students (e.g., engineering), while other fields usually have a lot of female students (e.g., psychology). Thus, we don’t know how much, if any, contact these male teachers even had with attractive young ladies.
Moreover, we do not know the sexual orientation of the men (this article seemed to assume that all of the male teachers were heterosexual, which is a poor assumption). Thus, we cannot say whether all of the teachers were even sexually interested in women! In light of this, the contrast effect explanation appears to be quite a leap in logic, which means several alternative explanations are possible. For instance, perhaps the demands of teaching are harder on men’s marital relationships compared to other professions, or maybe men who go into teaching have a different kind of personality that makes them more likely to divorce.
I should clarify that I do not dispute the notion that repeated exposure to young and beautiful people may create a contrast effect that undermines an individual’s relationship. I think the authors are right in arguing that repeated exposure to “perfect” faces and bodies can potentially harm both how we view ourselves and our partners. However, the study discussed here does not provide compelling evidence that teaching as a profession is as “hazardous” to men’s love lives as the authors suggest and we should probably be cautious in drawing too many conclusions from this work.
1Kanazawa, S., & Still, M. C. (2000). Teaching may be hazardous to your marriage. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 185-190.
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