Spousal Troubles, Divorce Linked to Social Media

A 20% increase in Facebook users in a state in the US was linked to a 2.18% growth in the divorce rate.A 20% increase in Facebook users in a state in the US was linked to a 2.18% growth in the divorce rate.

It turns out that spending countless hours talking to friends in front of a screen can negatively affect your most important relationship, the one with your spouse.

A new study conducted by James E. Katz, the Feld Family Professor of Emerging Media Studies at the College of Communication and two other researchers found a correlation between using social network sites (like Facebook), spousal troubles, and the divorce rate.

The study “Social Network Sites, Marriage Well-Being, and Divorce: Survey and State-Level Evidence”, was recently published online in Computers in Human Behavior.

The authors say their findings show that heavy use of social networks—specifically Facebook—is “a positive, significant predictor of divorce rate and spousal troubles”, reported Boston University’s News Agency BU Today.

Katz coauthored the study with Sebastian Valenzuela and Daniel Halpern, professors from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s School of Communications.

 “The study looked at data to understand human behavior as it is affected by communication technology, especially technologies that are mobile-based,” says Katz, who is also director of BU’s Center for Mobile Communication Studies.

“We believe being aware of this situation will empower Facebook users to better understand the implications of their activities and allow them to make informed decisions.”

Researchers first looked at data from married individuals collected between 2008 and 2010. They compared divorce rates across 43 US states with Facebook penetration—the number of accounts in each state—divided by the total population.

 Key Indicator

They found that a 20% increase in Facebook users in a state could be linked to a 2.18% growth in the divorce rate. Even when researchers factored in variables such as employment status, age, and race, the correlation remained constant. The findings could be a “significant predictor of divorce rates,” they said.

Researchers also examined data from 1,160 married people collected in a 2011 University of Texas at Austin study that had polled married 18 to 39-year-olds on questions designed to measure the quality of their relationship.

Non–social network users reported being 11.4% happier with their marriage than heavy social media users who were 32% more likely to think about leaving their spouse, compared with 16% for a nonuser.

Katz says it makes sense that people who are unhappy in their marriage would turn to Facebook to find other people and social support, adding that even the opportunity for meeting new people may help precipitate discontent with a marriage. Facebook has actually capitalized on this by “recommending” friends and groups for users.

“The institution of marriage, already under siege in many quarters, seems to be facing yet further assault from people’s growing enthrallment with social media.”