Contagion of marriage, divorce, and mobile phone decisions

Yours truly went to a wedding last weekend. Many of us go through a stage where we go to half-a-dozen weddings in a year, as our friends all seem to get hitched within a couple of years of each other.   And great fun it is too.  There is some anecdotal evidence getting married is contagious – perhaps attending the wedding makes one’s own nuptials more urgent (for the woman) or inevitable (for the man)?  Perhaps when one’s friends do it, the logistics start to feel doable.  The tragic phenomenon of copycat suicide is well known in academia, and media guidelines have been developed (e.g. here) to minimise contagion through sensitive reporting. There is some interesting evidence that divorce is contagious – as this Pew Research report says:

A research team headed by Rose McDermott of Brown University analyzed three decades of data on marriage, divorce and remarriage collected from thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts.

McDermott and her colleagues found that study participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced

Contagion of marriage, divorce, and mobile phone decisions

Though the study has attracted some criticism (for example, here), it certainly passes the intuitiveness test – our experience tells us that there’s some truth in it.  More research will certainly follow, to test and refine the conclusions. Maybe the reason that we observe weddings happening in clusters is – in part – because for many couples they are linked to a time of life, like getting your first job or having a first child.

Many years ago, when the author worked in a telco, we commissioned research on consumer attitudes to prepaid and postpaid mobile.  The research found that the consumers viewed prepaid mobile service like having a casual boyfriend / girlfriend – and postpaid contracts like marriage.  The difference was in the level of commitment. Idiro’s research in more than one market has found that moving from a prepaid to a postpaid contract is contagious too – when your friends move to postpaid, you become much more likely to follow suit.  (Idiro’s customers use this information to improve success rates in prepaid-to-postpaid migration campaigns.)  We believe that whereas this contagion used to be just down to customers moving together from a short-term to a long-term view of their world, nowadays the contagion is also heavily influenced by smartphone envy.  We know that smartphones are highly contagious – and customers choose postpaid contracts in order to finance expensive smartphones. Our friends influence us more than we think – often subconsciously.

So, we know that there is strong evidence for contagion of marriage, divorce, and mobile phone decisions.  As humans it’s good to be aware of these influences – so we can manage the pressures towards marriage, divorce, or whatever.  For the telco, Idiro’s algorithms hold the opportunity for the telco to get better marketing returns by targeting the right customers for these offers.