Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
No – it’s not some bug you can catch while commuting. But what had long been anecdotal has recently turned out to be a fact grounded in scientific evidence: if a woman’s friend has a baby, she is more likely to have one too. American researchers have identified two main reasons for it, and it appears that the phenomenon is rooted in psychology.
Do all your friends seem to have teamed up in an effort to increase the country’s population? Have you ever wondered why one post about your friend’s pregnancy sets the ball rolling for a new trend, leading to more messages like this appearing in your newsfeed? It appears that when a woman has a baby, all the ladies from her community set out to do the same. No conspiracy theory here – researchers say the phenomenon is real, and that social networks hold a lot of risk of ‘contagion’.
A team of scientists from American Sociological Association carried out a study revolving around a curious effect observed by many a woman: someone else’s childbirth can increase your ‘risk’ of having a baby soon. As is the case with the flu, the research found, the influence your friend’s childbearing may have on you is particularly strong shortly after finding out about the event. To be more exact, it peaks two years after you first find out about the “trigger baby”.
In total, around 1,700 young women took part in the study. There were no teen moms involved – the study focused only on planned children. The participants were followed for fifteen years (from 15 to 30), so the researchers had an opportunity to see how their parental aspirations were being shaped in the course of their growing older. On average, the first child was born when a woman was 27.
They found that major decisions, such as the one of having a baby, are influenced by peers’ behaviors (earlier research demonstrated that risky behavior can also be influenced by peers). No association was found between friends’ behaviors and unintended pregnancies, but getting married, having a child, contraception, and even having an abortion turned out to be in correlation with what the participants’ peers were doing.
Researchers believe it could be explained by families getting smaller, which results in substitution of siblings (another “source of inspiration”) with friends. In the past, people would decide to have a child if they had someone to help them to take care of the baby. Nowadays, scientists say, it could be cost-sharing benefits that come into play, like carpools, babysitting, etc.
Still, there are two more reasons that appear to be the most significant contributors to the effect. First, when a woman sees another woman of her age having a baby, she realizes that she could have one too – it is not that much of a problem, and later, when she finds out how her peers are managing the issues related to taking care of babies successfully, she starts to feel that it is not impossible.
Second, which is perhaps even more important, there is the good old wish to keep up with the Joneses. Your friend, whom you had been watching grow up as you attended the same educational facility, gave birth to a child – and you have not. The possibility of missing out on parenthood while all others succeed urges a woman to do the same, so as not to be an outsider. Everyone has a child, so why should not I have one?
Whatever the real reasons behind the effect, be careful when you scroll down your newsfeed next time – having a child means great responsibility, and doing so just to catch up with others is not a responsible approach to parenthood.