Yes, Divorce Is Catchy, but So Should Be Good Marriages


A headline proclaiming that “Divorce is contagious” probably ought to spark the immediate reaction, “of course it is.”  As the essay suggests, all of these big life events are contagious.  I observed among my wife’s friends as well as other circles of friend clusters that marriages, child births, divorces, and other relationship events that seem mainly between a husband and wife seem conspicuously to spread around a group of female friends.

Writes Bek Day:

There is a big social component to the times at which we each decide to make major life decisions like marriage – including, research suggests, when and if those marriages end.

According to a study conducted across three US universities, you’re 75% more likely to get divorced if at least one member of your close friendship circle ends their marriage.

Yep, 75%.

Researchers arrived at this extraordinary figure using a longitudinal study which examined participants over a 32-year period. Their findings, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that divorce was something that could be passed on through ‘social contagion’.

That’s why we have to make marriage contagious.  As I wrote again and again during the same-sex marriage debate, the designation matters because it allows those of us who maintain long-term relationships with the other who is significant because we two have created children to invest the institution with meaning.  (That applies even among couples that have no children, provided their relationship does not contradict the ability to create children as a central premise… that is, provided one is a man and one is a woman.)

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So, to counter the contagion of divorce, we have to have marriages that neither person wants to leave and that other people would take as a model.  That means we must take seriously our responsibility to seriously work out our differences, and in the end, that is most likely when we enter the relationship with the understanding that divorce is simply not an option.  It also means those considering divorce should consider how their decisions will affect those around them.

Yes, marriage is a two-person relationship, but its effects are much broader than that.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I have never heard it referred to as a “contagion” before, nor seen any other study. But this comports with my memory. At about age 30 I was friendly with about ten couples (all childless as well as I can remember). In a two year period just about all got divorced. I can only recall two who are still married. Generally, it was the wife who initiated proceedings, usually she had “fallen for” a co-worker. This was not a scientific study, so the numbers are loose, but I believe just about all have remarried. Life has taught me to ignore “We weren’t getting along”, in a very large proportion of cases there is “somebody else”. I now think of “starter marriages”.

    One point overlooked in Justin’s article is that the children of divorced parents are around twice as likely to divorce than the children of intact families. So, the more we divorce, the more divorce is created. The time period over which that study was developed is rather short. Up until the 1970’s, the incidence of divorce was low and the number of divorced parents was correspondently low.

    • Justin Katz

      Yes, I should have mentioned that children are especially susceptible to catching the divorce bug.

  • ShannonEntropy

    The thing that really surprises me about marriage in 21st century America is that a lot of men are still *lining up* to get married

    “Excuse me… is this the line to lose half my sh*t ??
    … Lemme take a number !!”

    A friend of mine lost HALF of all his 401K & IRA money to the wife he caught in bed with their landscaper… including more than seven figures he had earned and saved in the decades *before* he married her

    Yup … sign me up !!…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.21.2324…0i7i30k1j0i67k1j0i131i67k1j0i131k1j0i7i10i30k1j0i8i7i10i30k1j0i7i5i10i30k1j0i8i13i10i30k1j0i8i13i30k1j0i10i30k1j0i8i10i30k1.0.QkoZLm31iJ8

    • Rhett Hardwick

      While adultery is still a ground for divorce in most states, it’s use is discouraged. Most convert to some “no fault” basis; “for the sake of the children”. The temper of the times discourages judges from giving it much weight in property division. Most states require “equitable division” based on judicial consideration of listed factors. Most judges take the attitude of “50-50, or show me why not”. Divorce at the age you indicate is rather rare, and usually “for cause” of significance.

      • ShannonEntropy

        The Family Court system is out of control — and there’s NO appealing their judgements

        In another case a judge hauled a husband & his brother into court cuz they jointly owned an office building. He ordered them — under threat of jail — to either:

        A.) Get the building appraised and give the ‘frivorce’-initiating wife 25% of its value in cash [ half of the husband’s half interest ] or

        B) Sell the place and give her a quarter of the proceeds

        Unable to raise the cash, they were forced to sell

        How can a judge force a third party with no interest in a contract dispute [ marriage is basically a contract ] to sell his property to settle said dispute ?? We’ll never know cuz the judge’s decisions are non-appealable

        Every man should check out a eye-opening documentary called Divorce Corp *before* they say “I do”