Is Divorce 'Contagious'? What the Study Really Says

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Thanks to a new article by the Pew Research Center, a 2009 study on whether divorce is "contagious" has resurfaced and made a big splash in the media -- even comedian Stephen Colbert has weighed in on it.

The study finds that you may be more likely to get a divorce if friends or close relatives call it quits with their spouses.

Considering the divorce rate for couples over 50 has doubled, it's no surprise why the provocative study has piqued the public's interest.

Divorce as a Social Contagion: Study's Findings

The study's researchers analyzed three decades of data on marriage, divorce and remarriage collected from thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, reports Pew.

Rose McDermott of Brown University, the lead researcher of the study, likens the spread of divorce to a social contagion. "The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network," she posits in the study's abstract.

According to the study, having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75 percent. Having a divorced acquaintance bumps up your risk by 33 percent.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Popular people may be less likely to divorce because they have a stronger support network.
  • Getting a divorce decreased in popularity. Part of this is due to the loss of mutual friends divorcees shared with their spouse. In addition, newly single people may be shunned by married friends who worry about "marital poaching."
  • People who are divorced are more likely to marry someone else who is divorced, particularly if they enter a new relationship quickly.

Potential Pitfalls and Uses of the Study

Critics caution readers to take the study's findings with a grain of salt because of the limited sample set.

Researchers based their data on the Framingham study, one of the most influential longitudinal surveys. However, that group is more white, better educated, and statistically less likely to be divorced when compared to the nation's averages, according to The Atlantic.

Because the group isn't representative, the results can't speak for the whole country, either.

Nevertheless, the researchers say this information may help shed more light on whether or not the issue of divorce is a social or individual problem -- or perhaps a social media problem?

Does this mean Hollywood is going to be quarantined? (If so, people are going to avoid Kim Kardashian like the plague...) If you've been bitten by the bug, you may want to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer near you.

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