A recent study from researchers at Brown University, UC-San Diego, and Harvard University has found that having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75 percent. Even more, simply having a divorced acquaintance bumps up your risk by 33 percent. In short, divorce can be contagious.
The researchers, headed up by Rose McDermott from Brown University, write in the study's abstract that "The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network."
Before you start de-friending your divorced friends in order to maintain your marriage, there are some caveats with this study. The first is that researchers based their data on the famed Framingham study, "one of the country’s longest-running and most influential longitudinal surveys" according to the Pew Research Center. And that group is more white (the group is predominantly white), better- educated, and less likely to be divorced when compared to the nation's averages. So, for better or worse (i.e. the participants could be more susceptible or less susceptible than the average American), the results can't speak for an entire nation.
What the researchers found from analyzing three decades of Framingham relationships was that a divorce of a close friend can affect other marriages, which is what they call "network contagion." The theory isn't new — there have been studies which have found that peers can affect someone's weight, and that people having kids can make their siblings have kids. There have also been studies on how children from divorced parents are more likely to become divorced themselves.
But this is the first study that has combined the two ideas to really looked at how your social network affects your personal, romantic relationship. McDermott and company write also write that in this case, friendship outweighs physical distance.
Individuals who get divorced may influence not only their friends, but also their friends’ friends as the propensity to divorce spreads. Importantly, this effect is not mitigated by geographic distance but does decline with social distance ...
The researchers say that this information could help better understand and reduce the adverse effects of divorce, how to address coping, and possibly give us more insight to the debate on whether or not the fact that 43 percent of marriages in the U.S. don't last past 15 years is a social or individual problem.
They also mention that this information could help solidify your own relationship. If divorce really is contagious and can affect social networks, then this phenomenon might work the opposite way. "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," the researchers write.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.