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Causes of divorce: the influence of others in a social network

One of the ongoing threads that we attend to in this blog is the causes of divorce.

After all, even in an age of no-fault divorce, it is only natural for anyone considering or already going through a divorce to want to understand why it is happening.

In this post, then, we will take note of a recent research study suggesting that the decision to seek a divorce can be "contagious" - in the sense that it can be influenced by the actions of people in your social network.

We are not referring here only to social media. As we discussed in our April 25 post, there has been some speculation that inappropriate or inordinate use of Facebook, Twitter or other social platforms could make divorce more likely.

We are referring, rather, to a broad social phenomenon involving the spread of opinions, information and actions across networks that include family and friends and the extended networks of those people. The idea is that attitudes can spread across these networks in a form of "social contagion."

The premise of the phenomenon is similar to that used in the medical community to track the spread of disease. To be sure, divorce is not a disease; sometimes it is a necessary step for mental or even physical health. But it may be that the more people you hear about who are getting divorced, the more likely it becomes that you will too.

Researchers at Brown University recently did a study of how attitudes about divorce can spread across social networks. Their data encompassed thousands of people and spanned three decades.

The research indicated that when someone's friend or family member gets divorced, their own chance of getting divorced increases. Indeed, the study found that for fully three-fourths of the participants, a friend's divorce increased their own chances of getting one.

CBS New York, "New Study Says Divorce Can Be Contagious," April 30, 2014

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