Not to freak you out or anything, but if you’ve been noticing that a lot of your Facebook friends have been having babies recently, watch out — you might be next. A woman’s fertility can be affected not only by her individual choices, but also by whether other women in her social network are having babies, too, according to a new study in the June issue of the American Sociological Review.
OK, to be fair, the study didn’t specifically look at Facebook friends; it did, however, focus on more than 1,700 American women who were tracked from when they were about 15 years old to approximately age 30. It turns out that having a high school friend who has a baby actually increases the likelihood that a woman will have a baby of her own, with the median age at first birth for women being 27 years old. Why is this the case? Researchers Nicoletta Balbo and Nicola Barban believe there are three possible explanations: That people compare themselves to their friends, that people use their friends as an important learning resource for such a radical life change as having a child, and that having children at the same time as friends can have its advantages. "Friends can share the childbearing experience and thus reduce the stresses associated with pregnancy and childrearing," the researchers said.
I don’t know about you, but to me, it sounds like the having-babies version of the phenomenon in which women who live together end up with their menstrual cycles all synched up.
So how does Facebook fit into this whole thing? Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s creation and all the other forms of social media out there, our social networks are a lot bigger than they used to be. Even if you don’t live in the same town as your old buddies from high school anymore, you’re probably friends with a lot of them on Facebook — and if they start having babies, you’re seeing all those wee little ones on Facebook, too. Voila: Long-distance baby-making pressure.
The study is still worth taking with a pretty hefty grain of salt, though; as the Daily Dot puts it, “unless members of your high school cheerleading squad are literally traveling door to door with a turkey baster inseminating their Facebook friends, your social network can’t actually play a role in getting you pregnant.” True that. The whole “pregnancy contagion” thing also has a pretty short lifespan: Say Balbo and Barban, “It increases immediately after a high school friend gives birth, reaches a peak about two years later, and then decreases, becoming negligible in the long run.”
One thing’s for sure, though: If you don’t want babies, use your birth control, and use it correctly. Carry on!