Low-income Facebook users less happy with relationships

People with low incomes who use Facebook are less satisfied with their intimate relationships compared to those with higher incomes, a Victoria University study revealed.

Professor John Zeleznikow says the study found a surprisingly strong link between household income and how satisfied Facebook users were with their relationships – given that many variables could affect those relationships.

The survey of 518 Australian Facebook users from a range of socio-economic backgrounds showed relationship satisfaction dropped for those on low incomes, whether they lived alone or had families. The most severely affected were isolated single parents.

Dr Zeleznikow said the findings suggest that those on low incomes may rely on social media to escape their personal challenges at the expense of their relationships.

“Even though they’re turning to Facebook, it doesn’t seem to make their life any easier,” he said. “Rather than helping them feel connected, Facebook is not the remedy some are expecting.”

The findings highlight an area for service providers such as psychologists, doctors, or welfare agencies to pay attention to, he said.

Since Facebook launched in Australia in 2004 to become the country’s most commonly used social media platform, much research has focused on the impact of frequent or lengthy Facebook use.

However, this is the first study to examine if socio-economic status plays a role in whether Facebook has a positive or negative effect on relationships.

“We tend to worry only about young people and their use of social media, but they aren’t the only ones who suffer if it isn’t being used appropriately,” he said.

Not surprisingly, participants who used Facebook either much more or much less than their partner were more dissatisfied with their relationships compared to those partners who used it equally.

The study also showed that those who excluded their partner as a ‘friend’ from their peer group were not very happy with their relationships.

“Facebook provides another channel for partners to engage with one another and their extended groups, so it’s not unreasonable to assume a relationship is not very satisfying if one or both of the couple do not consider themselves even Facebook friends,” he said.

The study was supported by VU’s Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing.

Dr John Zeleznikow is a professor in VU’s College of Business with specialisations in dispute management, negotiation, and ethical and legal issues related to social media.

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