Researchers have linked levels of a major hormone to women’s chances of getting divorced after giving birth.
Oxytocin, produced in the hypothalamus region of the brain, plays an important role in social bonding and childbirth, amongst other functions. The researchers collected saliva samples from 341 pregnant women twice as their pregnancy progressed, and then again between seven and nine weeks after the birth.
Phase two of the study was conducted two and a half years later, when the 188 of the subjects were contacted and asked about their marriages. Ninety per cent reported that they were still married to their partners at that point. Seven said they had separated.
When the team compared marital status with oxytocin levels during and immediately after pregnancy, they found a link: women who had lower levels of the hormone were more likely to be divorced by the time phase two began.
Conversely, higher levels of oxytocin during the early stages of pregnancy meant the mother was more likely to remain married, and this likelihood increased still further amongst women who had produced the highest levels of oxytocin.
Study co-author Jennifer Bartz is a psychologist at McGill University in Canada. She explained:
“What these data suggest is that lower maternal oxytocin levels [are] associated with the risk of relationship dissolution by the time the child is a toddler.”
But she expressed a note of caution.
“There are lots of good reasons why it doesn’t make sense to stay in a relationship. Just because we’ve identified a characteristic in the mother doesn’t mean it’s causal.”
The study was presented at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.