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Is Pregnancy Contagious? A New Study Says Yes, Sort Of

Katlyn Joy | 3, June 2014


According to an article published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, women are more likely to have a baby within two years of their high school friends having their first child. Sound farfetched?

Researchers looked at data obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a representative study of American teens begun in 1996. For the study, researchers studied 1726 women from that study. Girls were 15 at the beginning of the study, and 30 years old when the follow up survey in 2008 or 2009. By age 27, half the women had given birth and started families.

Says one of the authors of the study, Nicoletta Balbo, "Friendships that were formed a long time ago have a big influence on the decision to have a child."

Balbo is a sociologist at Italy's Bocconi University.

Teens who participated in the study answered questions about their families, health, life, and of course, friendships.

The details of the study are intriguing. Women have a baby most likely within two years of their high school friends having babies, provided the women stayed in touch. For high school classmates who were not friends, the impact was lessened greatly.

Researches accounted for other factors such as socioeconomic factors, age, race and family background. At the point a woman has a baby, her high school friends' chances of having a baby increased, peaking at year two, and then diminishing. Authors of the study believe this indicates the timing is linked more to a friend's decision to have a child impacting friends than just friends simply decided to have kids at the same time.

Researchers speculate on the reasons why this appears true.

"You see your best friend having a child. You start meeting her with the baby, and you see what being a parent looks like. That could make people more willing to have children of their own, assuming those who have children seem happy," said Balbo.

They also wondered if it seems more economical. Friends can borrow baby and maternity clothing, toys and baby gear.

Socially, it also makes sense. It's harder to plan outings with friends with babies if you have no children. Events are easier if everyone is in similar family constellations at the time. People tend to seek out friends with similar family make ups, as in those with kids make friends with others who have children.

Next, the researchers want to delve more to find out if people have children at approximately the same time because having children in a sense is contagious, or because they begin marrying or cohabitating at roughly the same time, so children follow a natural timeline.

They may also want to consider other questions such as, if the women didn't really stay in touch with any high school friends, would they end up having children within a couple years of friends now present in their lives have babies? Is that a factor as well?

Those with babies, are most likely to admit, seeing adorable babies, doting although perhaps exhausted, parents and the whole process of going from couple to family, is contagious. When a friend has a baby, you get an up close look at how things may go for you, a type of observational experiment to determine your own readiness for parenthood.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an associate editor at Psych Central and offers these questions to ask before starting a family:

1. Why do you want a child; is it externally or internally motivated? If you want a child to please others, this is external. The desire to have a child should come from within.

2. How happy and stable is your relationship with your partner? Are you happy, satisfied and good at resolving conflicts? Are your communication skills strong? Have you been together at least a couple of years?

3. Are you financially prepared for a child?

4. Are you in a good place with your career and life goals? Children siphon time away from all other areas of life? Are you ready for the lifestyle change professionally and personally?

5. Do you have support? Having a baby is a big life-changer, and you will ideally have more than just the two of you to cope.

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