Opinion Brief

Is divorce 'contagious'?

A Brown University study finds we're far more likely to get divorced if our close friends have split up, but some commentators aren't buying it

The malaise surrounding a divorce can spread like a disease, according to a new Brown University study that tracked 12,000 New England residents. The researchers found that couples whose immediate friends had split were 75 percent more likely to get divorced themselves, a trend the study's authors call "divorce clustering." Can your friends' unhappiness really doom your marriage? (Watch a CBS report about the divorce study.)

Of course it can: This study "only proves the obvious," says Jen Doll at The Village Voice. Peer pressure influences us from the time we're kids. Besides, "the more people who get divorces around you," the less likely it is that you'll benefit from reasoned judgment should you contemplate a split yourself.
"Is divorce contagious? Is the pope Catholic? And other very important questions..."

No, that's a cop out: I see some truth in this study, but divorce is rarely inevitable, says Maggie Gallagher at National Review. It's usually a "decision that could often have gone the other way." Couples who stay together and those who split both have good and bad memories of marriage — the trick is in choosing to stick together, whatever it takes. "Inevitability is almost always a story we construct afterwards, not the truth before."
"Is divorce contagious?"

Peer pressure can save marriages, too: Everybody knows friends can affect the way we dress, says Colette Douglas-Home in Scotland's The Herald, but it's depressing to think that peer pressure can send us to divorce court. Maybe the answer is to surround ourselves with a wider circle of shared friends — and thus raise the odds that you'll also have positive role models to help you negotiate the "marriage minefield."
"Divorce is catching for those subject to woolly thinking"

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