Divorce -- And Lasting Marriages -- Could Be Contagious

Results of a study encompassing three decades of relationships reveal that having a divorced friend or acquaintance increased the likelihood of a person's own marriage ending. It's the first to examine how one's social network can affect romantic relationships.

What's the Latest Development?


Researchers examining three decades' worth of relationship data from the landmark Framingham longitudinal study have discovered evidence of "network contagion": Participants with a close friend who experienced divorce were 75 percent more likely to get divorced themselves. Even if the person was an acquaintance, the risk of divorce was increased by 33 percent. In a recently revised paper published online at the Social Science Research Network site, the team writes, "The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network."

What's the Big Idea?

While past research exists demonstrating behaviors spreading like epidemics through groups of people, this is the first study to focus on a link between romantic relationships and an individual's social network. The researchers note that the Framingham participants don't necessarily represent the US as a whole, as they tend to experience lower rates of divorce compared to the national average. They also mention that contagious relationship behaviors could work in multiple directions: "[A]ttending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages might serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship."

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