Divorce Contagion

Aug 8, 2012 by

A recent study from Brown University followed 12,000 people in Framingham, Massachusetts over a 32-year period beginning in 1948. The study has a very long name, and some very interesting observations about divorce in the United States.

The study conducted by Rose McDermott of Brown University, James Fowler of University of California, San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University is titled “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed for 32 Years.” That’s a mouthful for sure, but we’ll just call it the study.

What the researchers found was that the negative feelings and emotions surrounding divorce are quite contagious and simply knowing someone involved in a divorce exponentially increases your own chances of divorce, especially if you are close to them, or worse yet, related.

The study found that a divorce between your immediate friends or relatives can increase your own chances of being divorced by 75 percent. Even the divorce of a friend of a friend increases your own likelihood of a split by 33 percent. The effects spread like a virus in a phenomenon the study describes as “divorce clustering.” The study also found that if a brother or sister gets a divorce, your chances go up 22 percent and that even divorced coworkers can put you at increased risk. The study also noted that while people perceived as “popular” are less likely to experience a divorce, when they do they will likely lose 10 percent of their friends as a result. There’s nothing like a little science to back up popular wisdom.


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