From the left-leaning Pew Research.
As if married people don’t have enough to worry about, a new study suggests that the divorce of a friend or close relative dramatically increases the chances that you too will divorce.
A research team headed by Rose McDermott of Brown University analyzed three decades of data on marriage, divorce and remarriage collected from thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts.
McDermott and her colleagues found that study participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced.
So divorce is contagious…and you can catch the divorce bug from your friends—even from a friend of a friend?
[...]Examples of social contagion run the gamut from adolescent sexual behavior to the spread of phantom diseases in a workplace. Economist Ilyana Kuziemko reported in a 2006 paper titled “Is Having Babies Contagious?” that brothers and sisters are significantly more likely to have a child soon after a sibling gives birth. A research team in Arkansas tracked how obesity appeared to spread in elementary school classrooms.
[...]Overall, they found that the divorce of a friend or close relative significantly increased the probability of divorce. For example, about 9% of the adult children of the 1948 study group were divorced at least once. The findings suggest that the chances of divorcing increase to approximately 16% if a friend or close family member has been divorced — an increase of 75% over the overall divorce rate. The probability of divorce rises to roughly 12% if friends and relatives of the participant’s friends and relatives divorces. But the effect then vanishes, and the divorce of someone three degrees removed—a friend of a friend of a friend—does not significantly change the likelihood that a couple will separate.
“We suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages might serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship,” they conclude. “Although the evidence we present here is limited to a single network…marriages endure within the context of communities of healthy relationships and within the context of social networks that encourage and support such unions.”
Other insights from the study:
- People in the study group who have been divorced are more likely to marry someone else who has been divorced, particularly those who re-couple relatively soon after they end their previous marriage. Compared to others, those who remarried since the last study period were four times more likely to marry a divorcee.
- Divorced participant became less popular, in part because they may lose as friends members of their former spouse’s friends network. “In addition, newly single people may be perceived as social threats by married friends who worry about marital poaching.”
- More popular people—participants with more friends in their social network—were less likely to divorce than those with fewer friendships. Part of the reason may be that “a strong, supportive friendship network” protects a couple’s marriage by “mak[ing] it easier for individuals to weather inevitable marital stresses.”
I think there’s a lot of good tips in that study about how to safeguard your own marriage (or future marriage). For one thing, marry someone who has solidly married friends. Nurture the marriages of your friends. If you’re like me, then you’re diligent enough to teach your friends how to get married and even suggest sensible mates for them. There’s nothing that annoys me more than women choosing men who can’t be good protectors, providers and moral/spiritual leaders. Why not give them a helping hand before they make a poor decision? That’s what parents should be doing, especially – minimizing the influence of culture and peers on their children and helping young people take a long-term view of marriage.
I think that the importance of peer-pressure in decision making is very widespread among young people, and especially among young women. It doesn’t just work for bad things, but also for good things. I spoke to one woman recently who sounded nearly crazy with envy over her friends who were getting married and having children. Now this particular woman had excellent skills and a pretty good idea of what she wanted to achieve with a marriage. But imagine what it is like for women who have no idea how marriage works and basically just getting into a “monkey see, monkey do” situation.
The scariest thing for me is how people see movies and TV shows where things that are potentially very harmful (e.g. – the gay lifestyle, divorce, single motherhood) are made to appear normal and healthy, and so people are tempted to actually do these things. A better way to make decisions is to turn off the TV and the movies and derive a set of goals of your own. Then look to better sources of wisdom (the Bible, parents, older people, great literature, empirical studies) in order to figure out how to reach those goals.