The Contagious Nature of Divorce: Is Divorce Contagion a Reality?

Explore the concept of 'Divorce Contagion' and discover how a friend's divorce can influence your own relationship.

The notion of divorce contagion may sound strange but seeing a friend’s marriage end can substantially impact your own. In fact, a study from Brown University shows that when a friend divorces, your own likelihood of divorce surges by 75 percent.

Can Divorce Be Contagious?

According to a 30-year study conducted by Brown University’s Rose McDermott,  “[a]pproaching the epidemiology of divorce from the perspective of an epidemic may be apt in more ways than one. The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.” in other words, divorce may be contagious, for the simple reason that it becomes more socially acceptable if someone in your circle also gets a divorce.

Social contagion refers to the spread and acceptance of attitudes or behaviors within a family or social network. For instance, if one teenager becomes pregnant, the probability of her sibling also getting pregnant increases. Divorce contagion follows a similar pattern.

Social Ties

Degrees of separation link us to our friends and family. McDermott’s research found that a close friend’s divorce significantly influences our own marital stability. In the study, the percentage of divorced individuals nearly doubled from 9 to 16 percent if a close friend or family member had divorced.

A friend of a friend’s divorce, or second-degree tie, raised the divorce rate to 12 percent. However, divorce’s impact seemed to fade after three degrees of separation.

The study concluded that more marriages survived if others within the same social circle remained intact.

More Conclusions From Brown University Study

The study also found that divorced individuals were four times more likely to marry another divorced person. Divorce often led to reduced social popularity, as it cost participants their friendships and narrowed their social circles.

On the flip side, popular members of a group with a large social network were less likely to divorce, likely due to a larger support group helping them navigate marital problems.

Can Divorce Look Appealing?

For some couples, a divorce can be a positive move forward and the beginning of a new life. This can be seen by their friends as appealing. Their friends may no longer consider remaining in an unhappy relationship as the only future as they see a divorce with a happy ending. A divorce can open people’s eyes to greater possibilities.

Social Contagion

Within social circles, peer pressure often compels friends to act alike. When couples within a social circle marry or have children, others are likely to follow suit. Therefore, seeing friends divorce could make some question their reasons for marrying in the first place.

For unhappy couples fearing social isolation, a friend’s divorce can provide a boost of acceptability. Divorce contagion can offer social approval or disapproval within a particular circle.

However, divorce contagion doesn’t imply that happily married couples will suddenly split. It’s more likely to affect those couples experiencing conflict and negativity, who might view their divorcing friends with envy rather than pity.

Witnessing the positive aftermath of a friend’s divorce can prompt self-reflection, making couples question their own happiness and consider the prospect of divorce.

A Friend’s Divorce Can Open Eyes

Many couples move through marriage without paying much attention. They married because society said they should. Whether or not they are happy isn’t a question that these couples pursue. It’s more likely shrugged off with an indifferent, “So, who is happy, anyway?”

Such a couple can have its eyes opened and world upended when it witnesses friends improving their life and being obviously happier and more content while apart. The question that can arise now is, “Why aren’t I as happy?”

Such insight can lead the couple to pursue a divorce of their own, after being influenced by the positive results of their friends’ divorce.


Divorce is hard and a loss. However, if someone’s marriage is already suffering and making their life miserable, seeing a friend grow and living a better life after his or her own divorce can surely persuade us to act and consider improving our own lives.

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

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