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. These correlations hold after a variety of economic, demographic, and psychological variables related to marriage well-being are taken into account. Further, the findings of this individual-level analysis are consistent with a state-level analysis of the most popular SNS to date: across the U.S., the diffusion of Facebook between 2008 and 2010 is positively correlated with increasing divorce rates during the same time period after controlling for all time-invariant factors of each state (fixed effects), and continues to hold when time-varying economic and socio-demographic factors that might affect divorce rates are also controlled. Possible explanations for these associations are discussed, particularly in the context of pro- and anti-social perspectives towards SNS and Facebook in particular.
But don’t deactivate Facebook just yet. Despite the provocative publicity, the study’s authors are careful to note that correlation does not equal causation, and social media’s effect on marriage remains unclear. That’s right. Facebook isn’t causing divorces. The authors advance two theories for why social media use may spike in unhappy marriages:
[T]his phenomenon can be understood by the fact that it is not so much that social network services such as Facebook causes problematic relationships between couples or cause divorce, but that divorcees and individuals in unhappy marriages use Facebook and SNS more often because it proves beneficial to them by providing emotional support.
[T]he termination of a relationship may lead users to spend more time in Facebook in order to monitor their ex-partner’s behavior.
Whatever the explanation, the authors don’t completely ignore the possibility that Facebook and other social networking sites may actually be contributing to marital unhappiness rather than just being a symptom of it:
[E]xcessive use of social media has been associated with compulsive use, which may create psychological, social, school and/or work difficulties in a person’s life. These phenomena, in turn, may trigger marriage unhappiness and, ultimately, divorce…Facebook in particular creates an environment with potential situations that may evoke feelings of jealousy between partners, harming the quality of their relationship…[W]e noted that services like Facebook have unique affordances that may help partners to reduce searching costs for extra-matrimonial affairs and consequently may contribute to cheating.
For those far better at math than I, the full paper is available here.