A recent study has found a link between pregnancy and friendship.
According to research, girls in high school whose friends have had babies are more likely to become young mothers as well.
“In our study we focus on high school friends because the later a friendship is formed, the more likely it is that the individual chooses the friends on common future family plans or common family orientations,” Nicoletta Balbo, a researcher at the Carlo F. Dondena Center for Research on Social Dynamics at Bocconi University in Italy, told Reuters Health in an email.
“We looked at dyads (pairs) of friends to see whether the childbearing of one of the friends in the dyad increases the probability for the other friend to have a child,” Balbo said.
The study looked at data from thousands of participants when they were adolescence in the 1990s and followed them for repeat interviews over the years.
The researchers focused on 1,170 women. Out of those, 820 became mothers during the study period. The average age for bearing a child was 27 and about half of the pregnancies were planned and half were not.
The study showed that after one of the women in a friendship pair had a baby, the likelihood of the other friend to become pregnant increased for two years and then it began to decrease.
Why is this the case? “The first mechanism that might be at play is the so-called social influence,” Balbo said. “We all compare ourselves to our friends and being surrounded by friends who are parents makes us feel pressure to conform to parental status as well.”
The second reason is social learning. “Friends are an important learning source,” she said. “Becoming a parent is a radical change in an individual’s or a couple’s life, and by observing our friends, we can learn how to fulfill this new role and therefore be more willing to become parents.”
Cost-sharing can also play a role. “For example, we can share the childbearing experience and thus reduce the stresses and costs associated with pregnancy and child rearing,” she said. “In contrast, being the only childless couple within a group of friends who have children can lead to isolation.”
Another researcher, Laura Bernardi, who is deputy director of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES program and a researcher at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, was not involved in the new research. However, she has studied the effects of social networks on childbearing and found similar results.
What do you think? Is pregnancy contagious?