|Is divorce contagious?. |
by Mira Jacob, Shine staff, on Tue Jul 6, 2010 12:29pm PDT84 CommentsPost a CommentRead More from This Author »Report Abuse..
You know those moments when science confirms something that you just knew in your gut? Well, add this one to the list than includes “cheeseburgers hurt your heart” and “people who drink too much get sad”: Apparently, divorce is contagious.
A new study done by scientists at Harvard University, Brown University and UC San Diego finds that divorce is a contagion that can spread though social groups like a virus, weakening the marriages closest to it. In fact, the breakup of a close friend’s marriage can increase the likelihood of your own marriage ending by a whopping 75 percent.
"We think of a regular contagion like the flu," professor James H. Fowler of UCSD said. "You get a virus and you're more likely to spread the symptoms to someone else. This is not just true for a virus. This is true for a lot of social behaviors."
The study, called "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” looked at the data of several generations of people in Framingham, Massachusetts, starting in the 1970s. While Fowler cautioned against extrapolating too much from the 5,000 participants in the study, some of its findings seem less shocking than intuitive, including:
•A person with a divorced sibling was 22 per cent more likely to get a divorce
•A person with a divorced coworker was 55 per cent more likely to get a divorce than someone who works with all married coworkers
•Even witnessing a friend of a friend’s divorce increased the likelihood of a marriage breaking up by 33 percent.
•Couples with children were less susceptible to being influenced by other couples divorces
While I can hardly pretend that my own experience is anything close to scientific, I have noticed that after a weekend of visiting friends going through divorces, I've found myself hugging my husband a little too long, and saying ridiculously obvious things like, "Let's never split up, okay?" I've also lain in bed awake at night, counting up all the things that work between us, as if affirmation were a form of inoculation. To be clear: I’m not judging my friends for splitting up, I’m just saying that I have absolutely noticed their divorces have caused ripples throughout the marriages of the friends and family that surround them, mine included.