Pregnancy Is Contagious

Does it seem like all your high school friends are having babies at the same time? You’re not crazy.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
May 29, 2014, 7:56 a.m.
“The study shows the con­ta­gion is par­tic­u­larly strong with­in a short win­dow of time.”

It starts slowly. A baby shows up on your Face­book feed. Your friends, like you, are get­ting older, set­tling down and start­ing fam­il­ies. Pretty soon, your en­tire news­feed is flooded with tiny chil­dren covered in what was sup­posed to be their first ex­per­i­ence with sol­id food, birth­day parties, and all the small mile­stones of a child’s de­vel­op­ment (“his first wink!”).

It’s an epi­dem­ic of cute, in which every one of your old high school friends seems to be hav­ing chil­dren around the same time. And new re­search says you’re not crazy to think so.

Preg­nancy is con­ta­gious. That’s the con­clu­sion of a study just pub­lished in the Amer­ic­an So­ci­olo­gic­al Re­view; the de­cision to have a child is in­flu­enced by so­cial net­works stretch­ing back to high school. “A friend’s child­bear­ing pos­it­ively in­flu­ences an in­di­vidu­al’s risk of be­com­ing a par­ent,” the study con­cludes, with a phras­ing re­min­is­cent of “friends don’t let friends do drugs.”

Fur­ther­more, “an in­di­vidu­al’s risk of child­bear­ing starts in­creas­ing after a friend’s child­bear­ing,” reach­ing “a peak around two years later.” Coau­thor Nicoletta Balbo summed those res­ults up like this in a press re­lease: “The study shows the con­ta­gion is par­tic­u­larly strong with­in a short win­dow of time.” Like the flu.

Though this isn’t about high school preg­nancy pacts and teen moms. (Teen preg­nancy rates are ac­tu­ally at their low­est in years.) This study looked at the ef­fects of high school friends 15 years on, fol­low­ing 1,700 wo­men tracked from the age of 15 to around 30. In the group, the me­di­an age for birth of the first child was 27.

The re­search also didn’t find any link between high school friends and un­in­ten­ded preg­nan­cies. The im­plic­a­tion here is in­tu­it­ive: Friends in­flu­ence ma­jor life de­cisions.

“Hav­ing a child (or not) is the out­come of sev­er­al in­ter­re­lated de­cisions and be­ha­vi­ors, ran­ging from com­mit­ting to a uni­on, to hav­ing sex, us­ing con­tra­cep­tion, and hav­ing an abor­tion,” the au­thors write. “Each ac­tion may be in­flu­enced by peers’ and friends’ be­ha­vi­ors.”

With fam­il­ies grow­ing smal­ler, the re­search­ers sug­gest that peer groups are tak­ing the place of sib­lings. It’s nat­ur­al to want your child to grow up around cous­ins. Aside from the so­cial­iz­a­tion be­ne­fits, there are some cost-shar­ing be­ne­fits as well (free babysit­ting ar­range­ments, car­pools, etc.) as hav­ing chil­dren around the same time. Where­as in the past, people might have looked to sib­lings for such sup­port, it may be now that they look more to friends.

“We as­sume that hav­ing friends with whom in­di­vidu­als can share their ex­per­i­ences as par­ents may re­duce the un­cer­tainty as­so­ci­ated with par­ent­hood,” the au­thors write.

High school, wheth­er many of us would like to ad­mit it or not, can set the tra­ject­ory of the rest of our lives. And a lot of times, it’s for the bet­ter. For one, con­sider that lifelong friend­ships are cor­rel­ated with longev­ity. In times when in­di­vidu­als are no­mad­ic, and fam­il­ies are smal­ler, it’s nice to know that the in­flu­ence of a good friend doesn’t fade, even over a dec­ade.

What We're Following See More »
Trump’s Political Director Steps Down
34 minutes ago

Jim Murphy, Donald Trump’s national political director, is taking "a step back" from the campaign, after being absent for several days. He cited "personal reasons," although he added he hasn't resigned.

Trump Draws Laughs, Boos at Al Smith Dinner
10 hours ago

After a lighthearted beginning, Donald Trump's appearance at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York "took a tough turn as the crowd repeatedly booed the GOP nominee for his sharp-edged jokes about his rival Hillary Clinton."

McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
18 hours ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
18 hours ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
18 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.