While Facebook apparently experiments with our emotions from time to time, most of the psychological damage we incur by using social media is probably self-inflicted. As evidence for this claim, I would draw your attention to new research that shows Facebook use is correlated with a number of “bad outcomes” for married couples, including a greater likelihood of infidelity and divorce.
The study, titled “Social network sites, marriage well-being, and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States” and published in Computers in Human Behavior, found that Facebook use is a “positive, significant predictor of divorce rate and spousal troubles,” according to researchers at Boston University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s School of Communications. Specifically, “Results show that using SNS is negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce.”
In the first part of the study, the authors analyzed marriage and divorce data from 43 U.S. states from 2008-2010, then compared divorce rates with Facebook penetration over that period. Controlling for a range of economic, demographic, and psychological factors including employment status, age, and race, they found that every 20% increase in the number of Facebook users in a state was correlated to a 2.18% increase in the divorce rate for that state.
For the second part, the authors looked at data from a previous survey of 1,160 married individuals, ages 18-39 and including social media users and non-users, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011. Among other things the survey asked respondents whether they are happy in their relationship, if they had engaged in extramarital sex, and if they ever thought about getting divorced.
Overall respondents who didn’t use online social networks at all were 11.4% more likely to report being happy in their marriages than heavy users of social networks. Meanwhile heavy users were twice as likely to think about getting a divorce or leaving their spouse than non-users (32% versus 16%).
Boston University professor James E. Katz, who led the study, stated: “The apparent association between the use of Facebook and other social networking sites and divorce and marital unhappiness in the United States raises troubling questions not only about how we use these tools, but how their use affects marriage. 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.”