Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample

49 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2009 Last revised: 7 Oct 2013

Rose McDermott

Brown University - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine

Nicholas A. Christakis

Harvard Medical School - Department of Health Care Policy

Date Written: October 18, 2009

Abstract

Divorce represents the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we exploit a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network. Popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees. Interestingly, the presence of children does not influence the likelihood of divorce, but each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages may serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends beyond those directly affected.

Suggested Citation

McDermott, Rose and Fowler, James H. and Christakis, Nicholas A., Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample (October 18, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1490708 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1490708

Rose McDermott

Brown University - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs ( email )

111 Thayer Street
Box 1970
Providence, RI 02912-1970
United States

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

Nicholas A. Christakis

Harvard Medical School - Department of Health Care Policy ( email )

25 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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