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Irreconcilable Claim: Facebook Causes 1 in 5 Divorces

Upon further review, Facebook and marriage aren’t incompatible.
In the past two weeks, the idea that the popular social-networking site plays a role in one in five divorces was reported by many news organizations. This wasn’t the first time that surprising number has surfaced—it has appeared in news reports periodically for the past year and a half.
Some lawyers do say that they see Facebook and other social media playing a role in divorce these days, as people rediscover old flames online or strike up new relationships that lead them to stray from their marriage vows. But lawyers and marriage researchers say there isn’t much evidence to support the notion that social-networking sites actually cause marriages to sputter.

In fact, both the marriage and divorce rate in the U.S. have declined as Internet usage has risen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. An annual survey of U.K. matrimonial lawyers by the accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton has found that during the Facebook era, infidelity’s role as the primary cause of around one-quarter of divorces has been stable. In an email, a Facebook spokesman called the notion that the site leads to divorce “ludicrous.”
Yet the 1-in-5 number has thrived in part because it helps fill a vacuum: There isn’t much reliable research about what does cause divorce. Academic researchers don’t even agree on how to approach the question. Some have searched for predictive demographic factors, such as age and income. Others have studied married couples’ relationships to see which characteristics presage a split. Determining whether a couple is likely to break up, though, is different than identifying the actual cause.
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