Can Divorce Spread Through Social Networks?

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According to a new study, this appears to be the case. As reported at the IFS blog,

What we know from experience—that divorce has an infectious effect—researchers Rose McDermott, James Fowler, and Nicholas Christakis confirm in their study, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample. They write, “The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network.”

I would argue this might be especially true in insular groups like retirement communities, where a number of elements coalesce to create a perfect storm for social and personal dysfunction. One of these signs is the rise of divorce in the 50+ baby boomer American generation, what is sometimes called “gray divorce.” In a 2012 study published in The Journals of Gerontology, we learn first, that the United States has the highest rate of divorce in the world. And that Baby Boomers have shown high rates of marital instability beginning from young adulthood. As several studies indicate, Baby Boomers are carrying this marital instability into their latter years, giving rise to the gray divorce phenomenon. The study shows that the divorce rate for middle-aged (50-64) and older (65+) Americans has doubled since 1990.

…Looking for correlated variables, Cahn and Carbone dug into a 2016 study in an article for the Institute for Family Studies and found that financial insecurity and marital biographies (as Brown and Lin noted) were two major factors in Baby Boomer divorce. A notable third factor was the marital quality of the couple.

But if we consider the work of McDermott, Fowler, and Christakis, we cannot underestimate the social network effect on the Boomer generation. True, marital histories, economic stress, and marital quality can impact the health of a marriage, but social influence can act on a couple for good or for ill when they are in a weak position.

Information that is use both academically and practically.