Is Divorce Contagious?


It is a widely known fact that roughly half of the marriages in America end in divorce. However, many question if there are any factors or situations that increase a couple’s chances of becoming another negative statistic. Researchers have determined factors such as religion, career, age, and geographical location can affect your marriage’s success. However, a recent study has discovered another factor that can have a significant effect on a marriage’s longevity; if you have witnessed your friends or family go through a divorce or have been through a divorce previously.

Rose McDermott at Brown University analyzed the research and data collected by the Framingham Heart Study. McDermott took the portions of the data collected relating to the interpersonal relationships and marriages of the subjects and studied the implications that divorces of family and friends had on the marriage of a subject. The results provided by this study gave a great deal of insight into the contagious effect of divorce. McDermott found:

  • If a party had a close friend or family member going through a divorce or had been through a divorce, the party was 75% more likely to end their own marriage.
  • If the party had multiple friends engaged in a divorce proceeding or who had divorced in their close circle, their risk of divorce increased by 147%
  • If the party had a two degree of separation, i.e. a friend of a friend, going through a divorce, they were 33% more likely to divorce.
  • If the party had a sibling who was divorced their risk of divorce increased by 22%.
  • If a party had a coworker who was divorced, they were 50% more likely to end their marriage.

When describing her findings, McDermott stated “the contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.” Although previous research studies have found that familial experiences such as getting engaged, entering a marriage, and having children are significantly influenced by the pressure of peers and families, this is the first study that displays the effect of social groups and families on the rate or risk of divorce. Researchers attempt to explain these “social contagions” in many ways. However, the most common explanation is the sensitive attributes involved in an interpersonal relationship, and the inclination to relate and personalize information shared. For instance, when a friend shares their marital problems and reasons behind their separation from their spouse, it is natural for a party to consider how their marriage relates and project their own experiences onto their friend. In other cases, a friend may see how a divorce benefited their friend’s mental or physical health and may be envious of the happiness experienced due to the separation. Further, through these relationships, friends and family can find the strength and courage they need to take the leap and file for divorce when they see a friend embarking on the same journey.

Although having to witness your family members or friends in your social circle divorce may increase your chances of discord in your own marriage, this is only a statistical factor that researchers have studied. Statistics are simple numbers and your marriage and divorce is a personal endeavor. However, acknowledging these possible elements can aid in the health and longevity of your marriage.

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