Is Divorce Contagious?

Maybe. A new working paper finds “that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network.” Rose McDermott, Nicholas A. Christakis, and?James H. Fowler relied on a 32-year sample from the Framingham Heart Study for their study. The authors conclude 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.” (HT: Jon Forest)[%comments]

Ian Kemmish

Follow the link, and the first sentence says: "it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties"

As a lapsed mathematician I appreciate the need to test even the most obvious concepts, but surely a "social tie" is, almost by definition, something across which attitudes about stuff flows? More interesting, surely, would be to mine the Framingham data for topics about which attitudes did not diffuse in this way? Ideally, perhaps, to present a paper about what did and what didn't?


How about within families across generations? Is it more or less likely that a child of divorced parents will get a divorce of his/her own?


Maybe these people see how much happier their divorced friends and family members are, and decide to get out of their own unhappy marriage instead of continuing to make themselves miserable.


Unfortunately, like many of their papers, the authors do not adequately control for contextual effects.


could be chicken/egg- people who are more marriage averse may be more likely to hang out with similar types




Thank you frankenduf, that possibility occurred to me too as people are attracted to each other as friends/mates for multiple conscious/unconscious reasons that might be behaviorally/genetically based. Like the hovering "helicopter" parents' behavior being blamed for their children's anxiety. Perhaps it's the parents' genes causing them to hover? Then their children receive these genes and become genetically anxious themselves, even if they were raised in another household? No one ever brings these arguments up, so thanks again.


It could also be that it takes one couple to "break the ice" so to speak. My personal experience has been that once one couple divorces, it's suddenly more acceptable for others in that social group to do so. Also, couples in unhappy marriages see that it's possible to survive a divorce (and in some cases come out stronger because of it) so they are less likely to fear the unknown. Finally, there is somewhat of a support system, other people in your social group that know what you're going through.

Frankenduf also has a good point - there may not be a causal relationship at all, it may just be that people that have more liberal views towards marriage (i.e. those that may be willing to get a divorce if the marriage isn't working) tend to be friends with people who see the world similarly. I'm reminded of the oft-tossed around statistic (at least in the abstenence crowd) that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get a divorce. At least one study (I read it years ago and can't remember the cite) found that living together doesn't cause unhappy marriages, it just indicates a more liberal view towards marriage, and tends to correlate with a willingness to leave an unhappy marriage. Couples that don't live together before marriage tend to have a more conservative view of marriage, and thus are more likely to view marriage as a life-time commitment that one must stay in. I wouldn't be surprised to find a similar trend here.



Divorces aren't the only thing which is "contagious" among social circles. Any major life decisions (getting married, having children, and choosing to retire early) are as well!

As LizM suggests, it might just take one or two people to demonstrate how to do it and the benefits before others feel comfortable to follow suit.

Our friends influence our small decisions, too, such as where to eat, what movies to watch, etc... so it makes sense that this influence would affect major decisions as well.


Contagious or No depends on whether the life is miserable or enjoyable after divorce. If he/she can demonstrate benefits of divorce then yes... it will spread through social touch.

NRI Divorce

An empirical scan among the South Asian diaspora in the West (including Non Resident Indians) seems to suggest that it is indeed true: Divorce is Contagious.

Members of close-knit South Asian community see their friends and peers walking away from traditional matrimony, including arranged marriages consummated back in the old country; and think why not us?


I'm personally in a tumultuous relationship and happen to be in my mid 20's. My conservative views lead me towards working on the problems because I really do love him. Happiness is desirable, but fickle. My question is, how long can a person wait for someone to change their ways when they don't want to??

Moral of the story: If you want to stay in a rocky marriage, listen to encouraging people, if you don't want to then take the advice of others who say to get out. It's personal choice with consequences that have to be weighed by each individual.


Don't make the mistake of thinking you can change him, you can't. Not only that, when there are problems at home men will cheat on you and they are very good at covering it up so you never know. Turn them off at home, they still get it.


Girls, Girls, Girls. Did any of you notice most of the "Pro" divorce comments are from women? Divorce is not the best thing to do especially if you have children. Statistically if you stay together and work through your problems, five years later your marriage will be stronger than ever. However, if you have children they will suffer in many different ways. I have 5 children and their Mother is never around and makes no attempt to see them. She has a live in boy friend that doesn't help her pay the bills and she's way behind on child support and doesn't really care. So if you really believe divorce is the way to go why did you get married in the first place? The study said there is a correlation between people having friends getting divorced and their subsequent divorce. Hence misery loves company, society is so much better now than in the 1900-1950's isn't it?


Good God Bill you expect her to pay child support? Step up to the plate and be a real Perhaps that is why she left you in the first place.


Good point Bill, I'm sure you learned quite a bit from your own personal experience.

A woman really just wants a man who will love her, show her she is valued, spend some time with the kids, and do a chore or two occasionally.

My husbands a great guy, just pretty clueless about his job as a "husband" even after 6 years. We fight about the whole "traditional vs. modern" roles all the time.

I am holding out for those "better" years.


Girls, girls, girls? Goodness "Bill" I haven't been a girl in over a decade... or two.
of course women would be the ones pro divorce, from all the marriages I've seen deteriorate, the women were the ones whose identity was complete erased after a few years. And those that have survived for decades aren't the types I'd like to be in (at all!!!!) Women give way too much of themselves and get little in return.

If anything, I've learned independence isn't happiness, but I'd rather be independent.


Dear Virgo,

If your independence isn't happiness, you're not independent enough!

No relationship survives constant unhappiness. But happiness cannot be gained unless there is independence. At least with independence, you only have yourself to blame when you're unhappy.