Study: Divorce Spreads Through Social Networks

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

SANTA BARBARA, CA, June 29, 2010 ( - A study published by the Social Science Research Network has found that likelihood of divorce is influenced by the social network in which a person is involved.

James H. Fowler and Rose McDermott of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, and Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard University, utilized a longitudinal data set from the well-known Framingham-Heart Study to explore how social networks influence divorce.

"Divorce is the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties," said Dr. Fowler.

The researchers report that, "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."

While most people think that divorce is a matter between a couple or within a family, the researchers say that "divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected."

The report also states that married parents with children are less influenced by divorces within their social network than childless couples, and the more children the couple has, the less the influence.

"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," the report says.

"Overall," the report concludes, "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."

The full text of the report, titled "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," is available here.

See related LSN articles:

Divorce Bad for the Environment as well as Children - No Kidding

Even “Good” Divorce Hard on Kids, New Study Confirms

Divorce Damages Health and Remarriage Doesn't Help, New Study Finds

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