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Study: Divorce can be infectious

An idea can be contagious, especially when that idea takes hold in a group of people who know and love each other. Think of your family and friends in the Atlanta area.

According to a new study, researchers say that if a close friend or relative gets a divorce, the chances that you, too, will divorce increase significantly.

The researchers examined marriage, divorce and remarriage data gathered over three decades from thousands of people in Framingham, a Massachusetts town of nearly 70,000 residents.

What those researchers found there was fascinating: if a study participant had a friend who divorced, the participant was 75 percent more likely to go through a divorce as well. If they knew a friend of a friend who divorced, that increased the likelihood of their own divorce by 33 percent.

"The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed," said the lead researcher in an article in the journal Social Forces.

Sociologists call it "social contagion": the movement of ideas, conduct and mind-sets through networks of friends and families.

That movement has been tracked in more than one study. In 2006, an economist showed how siblings would mimic each other in behavior. When a sibling has a baby, that sibling's brother or sister is dramatically more likely to have a baby of their own.

In Arkansas, researchers showed how child obesity moves through elementary school classrooms.

So it makes some sense that if a close friend or relative is going through a divorce, we are more likely to closely examine our own marriage and evaluate its pros and cons, and wonder whether we, too, are ready for a new life or if we're content with the life and partner we have chosen.

Source: Pew Research, "Is divorce contagious?" by Rich Morin, Oct. 21, 2013

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