The Conversation: Is Divorce Contagious?

James Fowler undertakes a study that concludes divorce is contagious.

July 14, 2010— -- "Till death do us part" is the traditional vow in a wedding ceremony, but the reality in America is that all too often marriage ends in divorce.

Divorce occurs in 50 percent of American marriages, but what drives that high rate? A new study has found that divorce is contagious.

In his study, "Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too," researcher James Fowler and his colleagues found that divorce can spread through social networks like a virus, passing among friends, siblings, even co-workers.

Fowler spoke via Skype with ABC's Linsey Davis for today's Conversation.

"We followed thousands of people over 30 years," said Fowler. "We found that if your friend gets divorced, it increases the likelihood that you'll get divorced by about 147 percent."

Friends share norms about divorce, the study found, so that if someone close to you gets divorced, it makes it more acceptable for you to divorce too.

Influenced by your friends' behavior, "you might think diffferently about whether or not divorce is one of the options that you can use in order to affect your own happiness," Fowler said, along with a disclaimer that he's in a very happy marriage.

While Fowler acknowledged that divorce is an important out for some people, he said the dissolution of a marriage can have far-reaching consequences.

"These divorces ... tend to rupture people's social networks, and so there is a cost. Every friend makes you healthier. Every friend makes you happier," he said.

We hope you'll catch all this in today's Conversation.

Click here to return to the "World News" page.