Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Siblings divorce increases the risk of divorce

29 September 2017

Parental divorce has repeatedly been shown to increase the risk of divorce for offspring. Research on the influence of other social ties is however scarce. New published research in 'Advances in Life Course Research' shows that the effect of sibling divorce turns out to be just as strong as that of parental divorce.

The rate of divorce has rapidly increased over the past few decades. Around half of the marriages in the US end within their first 15 years. Other Western countries, including the Netherlands, show similar peaks in divorce rates of up to 30 to 40% of marriages over the life course. Are personal divorce decisions part of a larger trend? Parental divorce has shown to be strongly related to the divorce risk of their children, but what is the possible influence of other social ties? 

The influence of sibling divorce

Elise de Vuijst (Delft University of Technology), Anne-Rigt Poortman (Utrecht University), Marjolijn Das (Statistics Netherlands) and Ruben van Gaalen (Statistics Netherlands and University of Amsterdam/AISSR) studied the contagiousness of divorce within one specific and highly significant social tie: the sibling. 

The sibling bond has been identified as a unique and intimate peer connection with a strong influence on all kinds of personal choices. An individual is usually closely familiar with the experiences of their siblings and siblings are often examples for behaviour throughout life. 

Research method: testing the association of divorce

The authors examined the association of divorce between siblings and whether such an association varies under specific sibship characteristics. They tested their hypotheses using event history models on five complete Dutch birth cohorts (1970–1974), derived from register data. Almost sixty-five thousand married individuals and their sibling were followed from 2000 up to 2012.

Results and conclusion

After correcting for shared background factors like parental divorce, the authors show that individuals with a divorced sibling have a higher risk of divorce than individuals without. When an older sibling gets divorced this effect is the strongest. Over time the effect of sibling divorce weakens.

The authors conclude that having a divorced sibling is associated with an increased likelihood of having a divorce oneself. The authors note it is important to place this finding in perspective: many background characteristics in their analyses had a stronger effect on divorce risk like educational level, children in the household and employment status of the partners. Still, the sibling effect is not negligible or even small: it is just as strong as the effect of parental divorce.

Publication details

Elise de Vuijst, Anne-Rigt Poortman, Marjolijn Das and Ruben van Gaalen, 'Cross-sibling effects on divorce in the Netherlands,' In: Advances in Life Course Research, doi.org/10.1016/j.alcr.2017.06.003

Published by  AISSR