Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

facebook-facebook

Facebook, Twitter Usage Linked to Higher Divorce Rates

• May 02, 2014 • 4:00 AM

Facebook, home wrecker. (Photo: Northfoto/Shutterstock)

New research finds a correlation between marital dissatisfaction and social media usage.

We all know the warning signs of a couple in trouble. Unrealistic expectations. Poor communication. A mutual tendency to blame and shame.

Newly published research adds another red-flag behavior to that list: Facebook usage.

A team of researchers reports finding a robust correlation between using social network sites, experiencing a troubled relationship, and thinking about divorce. Using empirical evidence to confirm anecdotal reports, it finds this same troubling pattern using two different sets of data.

Writing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the researchers are quick to note it’s unclear whether Facebook usage leads to more unhappy marriages, or whether unhappy spouses spend more time on Facebook. Indeed, they write, both may be true.

Excessive use of social networking sites could leave ignored spouses feeling abandoned. If people are using such sites to follow former lovers—or people who could conceivably turn into romantic partners—such behavior “may evoke feelings of jealousy.”

“It may seem surprising that a Facebook profile, a relatively small factor compared to other drivers of human behavior, could have a significant statistical relationship with divorce rates and marital satisfaction,” write Sebastian Valenzuela and Daniel Halpern of the Catholic University of Chile and James Katz of Boston University. “It nonetheless seems to be the case.”

The researchers looked at state-level data from 2008 through 2010, comparing divorce rates with Facebook penetration. (The total number of Facebook accounts in each state was divided by the total population.)

They found “a 20 percent annual increase in the share of a state’s population with a Facebook account is associated with a 2.18 percent increase in the divorce rate.” That relationship remained robust after taking into account such variables as income, unemployment, and the statewide rate of Internet access.

In addition, the researchers examined data from 1,160 married people collected as part of a 2011-12 survey taken by the University of Texas at Austin. Participants responded to a series of statements designed to measure the quality of their romantic relationship, and revealed whether they had thought about leaving their spouse at any point during the previous year.

Separately, they reported the amount of time they spend during a typical weekday on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace.

Participants who spent more time on online social networks reported, on average, lower levels of marital happiness. In addition, the researchers write, heavier use of social networking sites was “a strong, positive predictor” of thinking about walking away from one’s marriage.

As noted earlier, this relationship has two possible explanations—and they’re not mutually exclusive. The researchers note that some people turn to online social networks for emotional support in difficult times—say, when they’re stuck in a bad marriage, or attempting to navigate the strange world of being newly single.

On the other hand, they write, there are many reasons why Facebook usage could harm marriages. Excessive use of social networking sites could leave ignored spouses feeling abandoned. If people are using such sites to follow former lovers—or people who could conceivably turn into romantic partners—such behavior “may evoke feelings of jealousy,” they note.

“The ‘mutual’ and ‘suggested friends’ features may also facilitate potential cheating,” the researchers add, “since users can search through their friends’ friends to find someone in whom they may be interested.”

So if you’re a married person who is spending more time with your virtual friends than your flesh-and-blood spouse, be aware that your marriage may be at risk. Perhaps too many “likes” can imperil love.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.



July 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, MacArthur Genius?

Noah Davis talks to Yoky Matsuoka about youth tennis, wanting to be an airhead, and what it’s like to win a Genius Grant.


July 21 • 11:23 AM

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?


July 21 • 10:00 AM

How Small-D Democratic Should Our Political Parties Be?

We need to decide how primaries should work in this country before they get completely out of hand and the voters are left out entirely.


July 21 • 8:00 AM

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don’t actually walk like primates at all.


July 21 • 6:00 AM

Sequenced in the U.S.A.: A Desperate Town Hands Over Its DNA

The new American economy in three tablespoons of blood, a Walmart gift card, and a former mill town’s DNA.


July 21 • 5:00 AM

Celebrating Independence: Scenes From 59 Days Around the World

While national identities are often used to separate people, a husband-and-wife Facebook photography project aims to build connections.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don't actually walk like primates at all.

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.