You Are More Likely To Get Pregnant If Your Colleagues Are
- Social learning and social pressures to blame for contagion effect
- The phenomenon happens among siblings as well as colleagues
- Pregnancies will still be contagious between colleagues despite lockdown measures
Have you ever noticed that lots of people in the office seem to get pregnant at the same time? It starts slowly, a baby scan shows up on your Facebook feed, and then just like that everyone around you is expecting.
Your daily conversations change from planning after work drinks, to what pram they are buying and when they’re due. In your eyes, it’s like a baby epidemic is happening, which is better than COVID-19 at least, but you are not crazy, it turns out that there is actually a scientific reason for this.
Believe it or not, pregnancies are actually contagious in the workplace and between siblings, according to new research by the University of Cologne.
The study, by Professor Thomas Leopold, analysed data from the Dutch systems of Social Statistical Datasets (SSD), which contains information about family members and workplaces of the whole Dutch population, and found that if a child is born to a colleague or sibling, it can trigger a chain reaction of pregnancies.
This is because a person who has the desire to have a child can actually influence their siblings, and even their own colleagues to have children and this is as a result of social learning.
The social learning theory explores the idea that behaviour can be acquired by observing and imitating others. The most common example of this is TV adverts, most of the time these adverts will suggest that using a certain skincare product will make our skin flawless, or drinking a certain drink will make us healthier. We then subconsciously model the behaviour that is shown in the advert and buy the product being advertised because we think it’ll improve us – basically individuals are really easy to manipulate.
The study reveals that this theory can also be applied to pregnancies. Colleagues can actually influence fertility decisions because they can inform others on what it is like to be a parent because they are a particularly relevant source of learning about the work/family dynamic.
“We suspect that this kind of effect happens in the workplace primarily due to social learning,” says Professor Leopold, Professor of Methods of Empirical Social Research at Cologne, “colleagues may influence each other’s fertility decisions because they can learn from them about the consequences of becoming a parent, and how parenthood influences work and family life.”
The study also revealed that the contagion effect was much greater among women, because the cost of childbearing is greater for them. The information they obtained from colleagues about the work/family dynamic was more relevant for women because seeing a female colleague balance the work-family life, reduced the element of uncertainty for them as traditionally, having children impacts women more than men.
However, the authors add that social pressure can also be a reason for the contagion of pregnancies among colleagues. Many individuals may change their attitudes towards having children in order to conform to social norms, and this could be further increased if pregnancy is common at the workplace. Furthermore, the study revealed that that social pressure plays a key role because women assess their well-being and needs by comparing themselves to other women within the workplace – and having children could be seen as an indicator of success.
But there are now fewer people than ever before currently working in offices, and this could be the future of work. COVID-19 has led to governments globally introducing lockdown measures to reduce the spread of the virus, but employees everywhere have found that they actually enjoy working from home and many companies expect to continue this flexible working once the pandemic is over.
So, will this phenomenon still continue with fewer people working in offices?
Yes, it will, the researchers state that colleagues don’t have to physically be in the same room for this to occur, simply having a conversation over zoom, or seeing their posts on social network is enough to trigger the chain reaction.
This is important because if this contagious effect didn’t happen, it could have a significant impact on the demographic. As part of the study, the researchers conducted a simulation to see what would happen without the contagion effect and found that the number of pregnancies would drop by 5.8 percent without colleague effects and by 1.5 percent without sibling effects – which would change the population size considerably.