Study Suggests Divorce is Contagious

The flu isn’t the only thing families should watch out for this season. According to a new study from Brown University, divorce may also be contagious.

Research by Brown University political science professor Rose McDermott, and colleagues from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego, shows that divorce spreads through social networks like a disease. According to researchers, this “social contagion” occurs when divorcing couples spread information, attitudes and behaviors through their social network, including coworkers, friends and family members.

Data collected from 12,000 people over three decades revealed a startling trend:

  • The divorce of a close friend increases your likelihood of divorce by 75 percent
  • A coworker’s divorce increases your likelihood of divorce by 55 percent
  • The divorce of a friend of a friend increases your likelihood of divorce by 33 percent
  • A divorced sibling increases your chances of divorce by 22 percent

Physical proximity matters less than emotional or psychological closeness and, while the “divorce disease” spreads even to friends of friends, thankfully that’s where it ends. This means a divorce three degrees removed from you — your friend’s friend’s friend — should not have any effect on your likelihood of divorce.

Psychotherapist Talia Filippelli has a different take on the divorce study. According to Filippelli, divorce itself is not contagious, but emotions often are. For example, if you are frequently around someone in an unhappy relationship, you can become more critical of your own relationship, increasing the probability of divorce. Filipelli suggests avoiding associating your own relationship with that of your friends, while McDermott believes you can avoid the divorce contagion by providing support for the marriages of your friends.

If you are contemplating divorce, or want to avoid it by enumerating each spouse’s rights and responsibilities in the marriage ahead of time, an experienced family law attorney in Westchester and Putnam counties can help.

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