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Is Divorce Contagious?

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Just one week after former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, announced their divorce after forty years of marriage, their 36-year-old daughter is reported to be divorcing as well.

Al and Tipper Gore and Karenna Gore Schiff

Karenna Gore Schiff, the oldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, has separated from her husband, Dr. Andrew Schiff. Gore Schiff is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School. She married Andrew Schiff in 1997, and they have three children.

This news got me thinking. Can divorce be caught like a virus, just as a good mood or bad manners can spread through peer groups? The answer is yes. All social behavior is shaped by group affiliation. Swearing, church-going, drug use and good driving habits are all examples of social behavior that tends to run through clusters of social groups. Now a new study has found that divorce can also be affected by peer pressure.

James H. Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, has found that divorce can spread from one couple to their friends and family -- and even affect couples who are a couple degrees of separation away. Yikes!

One thing his study found is that if your siblings divorce, you're 22 percent more likely to divorce yourself. The divorced-friend factor is even more influential: People who had a divorced friend were 147 percent (!) more likely to be divorced than people whose friends' marriages were intact, the study said. Yikes!

Of course, this study was only based on 5,000 couples, so it's hard to generalize about the whole population ....

Do YOU think divorce is contagious?

next: Summer Airline-Travel Strategy: Divide and Conquer
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