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Having a friend or close relative go through a divorce will actually increase the odds you’ll do the same and by a very dramatic margin, according to a new study.
The research doesn’t quite label divorce as a contagion yet but instead points to how the emotions and experiences of the process can be shared, or at the least related to, by others close to the splitting couple.
Rose McDermott, a professor of political science at Brown University, led the research, along with James H. Fowler, a social network specialist from UC-San Diego, and Nicolas Christakis, a Yale University sociologist.
McDermott, Fowler and Christakis analyzed the marital status and divorce rates of citizens in Framingham, Mass., across several decades.
From this, they determined a person is 75 percent more likely to become divorced after a friend or relative does the same. It drops to 33 percent when the divorcing individual is once removed, such as a friend of a friend.
In the journal Social Forces, the study’s authors explain that, “the contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.”
The researchers gathered their data for the study from the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 to observe the risk factors for cardiovascular disease across several decades.
“Divorce can spread like a rumor, affecting
people up to two degrees removed.”
Thousands of men and women were tracked every two years, including the addition of 5,100 of their adult children and their spouses in 1971. The research continued until 2001.
Only 9 percent of the adult children from the initial 1948 study had divorced.
However, that number rose by two-thirds to 16 percent if a close family member or friend divorced.
If someone is once removed from the divorcing party, their likelihood dropped to 12 percent, with the effect essentially disappearing beyond that.
Divorces involving a friend of a friend of a friend were seen to have little effect.
“The key is the effects are not so much geographical — that you live close to someone who is divorced does not seem to matter so much, but that you are emotionally or psychologically close to someone who gets divorced,” McDermott said.
Headshot from brown.edu