Does social media contribute to divorce?

Photo: Romance  Credit: Daniel West
Photo: Romance Credit: Daniel West

There has been quite a bit of coverage recently attributing an increase of divorces to social media (primarily Facebook).  The headlines are quite alarmist:

Facebook and divorce: ‘Friending’ old flames can break up marriages

Social networking a big contributor to divorce

Divorce, Facebook style: Facebook contributes to the breakup of 1/3 of marriages

Facebook named in a third of divorce filings in 2011

As it turns out this is a rekindling of a bunch of articles from December attributing 20%-30% of all divorces to Facebook based upon a study in the U.K. searching for the word “Facebook” in divorce filings.  Even Perez Hilton scooped the New York Daily News by six months.

And it’s all a farce.  The divorce rate remains at about 50% – similar to the pre-Facebook rate.  If Facebook is causing 20% of all divorces, then the divorce rate of non-Facebook related causes would have had to have decreased a compensatory 20%.  It’s a reckless and ridiculous assertion that takes two seconds to debunk.

Because it was so widely reported I decided to dig a little deeper to see if I was missing something.  In the footnotes of one article was a reference to an article from the Wall Street Journal, so I clicked there to understand some of the methodology and reasons Facebook would be a purported marriage killer.  Much to my surprise – the news source (this was not a blogger) linked to an article that refuted the research.    What kind of bizarro world do we live in when a news organization footnotes articles that contradict what they are reporting?  There was also another great link in the WSJ post that thoroughly debunks the cited numbers (again from back in December).

Point being, social media isn’t causing divorce – social sites are simply a part of our everyday experience.  The people prone to infidelity will continue to be infidels, and people who don’t get along will continue not to get along.  It’s important to understand that the circumstances leading to divorce are far more complicated than some simplistic distillation.  The consistency of the divorce rate doesn’t imply that there are any additional divorces to cause, so Facebook can rest easy knowing that this is one transgression that they are not responsible for.  Though all of their other transgressions I assume them guilty of.

A quick personal note to my wife – I’ll be turning my Facebook page back on now since it’s not causing our marriage irreparable harm.  The world can rest easy now knowing they will no longer be deprived of trivial pictures of our children.


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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Jason Eng

    If social media is contributing to a divorce, I have to believe that there were bigger issues with the relationship to begin with.

  • Alan

    This reminds of back when the Internet was pretty new. I was working at an ISP and a customer was REALLY upset about someone who had ripped them off online. I vividly remember trying in vain to get the customer to understand that just because the incident happened “online” that did not make it the ISP’s responsibility. Social networking is just another tool for humans to interact. We are still responsible for our own interactions, regardless of where they take place.

    • Jim Dougherty

      Alan – I’m grateful for your comment. It’s a little perplexing for me to get notes from folks insisting that social media is causing divorce when the divorce rate isn’t any different. I think it may be that the accessibility and unknown aspect of social networks cause people to believe something like this. Great comment – thank you for reading and taking the time to post!

  • Vaughn Davis

    Nice post. We’re having exactly the same debate here in New Zealand around Facebook and suicide and I’ve advanced the same argument: if Facebook is causal and users have gone from zero to (here) 2.2 million, why has the suicide rate not gone up. Social media is just another place where people do what they’ve always been doing.

    • Jim Dougherty

      Great insight, Vaughn. Without that information I would have assumed that Facebook made bullying more prevalent, but it’s hard to justify a causation argument if there isn’t anything to cause. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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