Study suggests that divorce could be contagious among Illinois couples

A recent study suggests that the marital decisions of friends affect divorce risk; people with divorced friends are more likely to also divorce.

Many married Chicago residents recognize that external factors, such as the economy, may impact their marriages and even their likelihood of divorce. Still, many people would be surprised to hear that the behavior of their married friends is one of those influential factors. Surprisingly, one study suggests that people whose friends divorce have a greater likelihood of deciding to end their own marriages.

A contagious phenomenon

According to the Pew Research Center, the study from Brown University utilized data collected during the Framingham Heart Study, which is a long-term study that began in 1948. Researchers originally enrolled 5,209 people in the study, and in 1971, 5,124 more people were enrolled. The original participants are interviewed and examined every two years, while the second generation of participants is interviewed every four years.

In addition to going through medical tests and exams, participants are asked to name their friends and family members. The average participant knows 11 other people participating in the study. Using these stated connections, researchers from Brown University surveyed three decades of data and found a relationship between personal friendships and divorce.

The study found that a person is 75 percent more likely to get divorced if one of his or her friends divorces. Even less direct acquaintances appear to affect divorce risk; after the divorce of a friend of a friend, study participants were 33 percent more likely to get divorced. These findings suggest that the behavior of others may significantly affect a person's divorce risk.

Analyzing the results

The study's researchers noted that there are some potential limitations to this study and its relevance to the general population. All of the following factors could make the study inaccurate or inapplicable to other groups of people:

  • Demographics - the study participants were not a diverse group who represented the national population reasonably well. Most participants were Caucasian and middle class, and they received higher levels of education than the average American.
  • Divorce risk - the researchers additionally note that, on a national level, these characteristics are typically associated with a lower divorce risk, which means that the demographic differences could affect the accuracy of the findings.
  • External relationships - the study did not account for the divorces of friends or friends of friends who were not participating in the study.

This means the findings may not be true for every population. Still, The New York Post notes that the idea of contagious divorce makes sense on a few levels. People who are unhappy in their marriages may gain courage to pursue divorces, despite potential complications with issues such as child custody or division of marital assets, after seeing friends divorce successfully. Other people may be more likely to consider divorcing if they know they will have a supportive, understanding group of friends to turn to, rather than going through the experience alone.

Preparing for divorce

Pursuing a previously desired divorce because friends or family members have recently divorced may offer benefits. However, it's crucial for anyone considering a divorce in Illinois to fully understand the likely outcomes and potential legal complications. Meeting with a divorce attorney is often an important starting point for people who are seriously considering taking this step.

Keywords: divorce, property, division