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Study says peer groups may divorce at similar times

There has been much ado about the effects of social media in recent years. But for generations parents have worried about potential issues that can arise with the kids due to peer pressure. So why is it somewhat surprising for some people to learn that researchers not only find links between life events and members of social networks?

In defining the social networks and what researchers curiously call social contagions, various studies over the years have looked at a variety of different areas. In 2006 a researcher looked into the apparent link between siblings and the birth of children in a family. The economist noted that a person who recently became an aunt or uncle was more likely to soon become a parent as well.

Other studies have looked at things like the apparent contagious affect of obesity in classrooms, where peer groups were more likely to add weight together. It is not clear of any of these studies control for the fact the social networks typically involve people of the same age group and position in life.

Now, researchers claim that a link can be found among social groups and the divorce rate. Ironically, the research seems to be a byproduct of a long-running study that seeks to better understand heart disease. The study began looking at groups of people in 1948 to learn about cardiovascular disease, and over the course of many years, updates to the longitudinal research folded in offspring of the original study participants.

Each participant is interviewed on a recurring basis. The researchers claim that after reviewing three generations of data, they think that the study shows that a married person is 75 percent more likely to divorce if a friend goes through divorce. When a friend of a friend divorces, the chance of the married subject to seek divorce sits at 33 percent.

For people who are going through a divorce, the research may serve a small function in showing that a person may not be as alone as it seems. But, in reality, the research may only reflect a mathematical function of the divorce rate. A researcher may simply find information that is consistent with the lens through which data is reviewed.

When a marriage breaks down, it is important for a person to understand that friends and family may be an important source for support. But, it is also important to consider the issues in the divorce process directly to protect individual rights that may ultimately be outlined in the final decree.

Source: Pew Research Center, “Is divorce contagious?,” Rick Morin, Oct. 21, 2013

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