Divorce spreads through social networks

Photo by Flickr user Print North East. Click for sourceA completely fascinating study published on the Social Science Research Network looked at how likely a marriage was to survive depending on who else in the social network was getting divorced.

The study used data from the famous Framington Heart Study and found that while we tend to think of marriage as a ‘couple thing’ is turns out that even our most intimate bonds are deeply embedded into the social webs we weave.

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

Rose McDermott, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler

Divorce is the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we utilize a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. We find that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network. We also find that popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees. Interestingly, we do not find that the presence of children influences the likelihood of divorce, but we do find that each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected.

Link to full text of study (via The Situationist).

One Comment

  1. Posted July 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing, but this is very true. In my line of work, we get a surprising amount of clients who are referred by other couples we’ve assisted in divorce. I think it’s important that as married couples, we intentionally focus on the relationship itself, not what has caused others’ to fail.


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