Facebook Shares New Data on Relationship Status and Sentiment

By Sara Inés Calderón Comment

Facebook has taken data from status updates to report post what our grandmothers have been saying all along: people who are in a relationship or marriage are seemingly happier than the rest of us.

Lisa Zhang, a University of Waterloo student interning on Facebook’s data team, posted the Valentine’s Day note in which she said happiness of Facebook users was measured by analyzing positive and negative words in status updates as defined by it Gross National Happiness Index during one week in January. This was done by computers with personally identifiable information removed, she noted, claiming it didn’t invade users’ privacy.

The hierarchy goes like this: married people are happiest, followed by people in a relationship, although married people tend to be older and, Zhang notes, older people tend to be happier. The corresponding gender breakdown: men are more positive then women when in a relationship or married, but more negative when married or engaged.

People in open relationships seem to be the most miserable, according to Zhang’s post, with men being the saddest in these pairings. Women reported being in open relationships 40% more than men, she wrote.

Those in open relationships had even less positive status updates than widows, than those with “it’s complicated” as their status, and than singles (who comprise 30% of women and 40% of men on Facebook). Widowed people showed less emotion, positive or negative, overall, she wrote.

Facebook users who do not disclose their relationship status are 50% more negative than everyone else, Zhang wrote.

It’s always insightful when Facebook releases analysis of user data, but it’s important to keep in mind that this information in and of itself is skewed. A Facebook status update can be seen by friends, family and the family of one’s spouse — people may be posting positive status updates to be seen by others even if they are not happy on the inside. Judging “happiness” in its absolute sense is something that is arguably outside of Facebook’s scope.

While there may be some correlation between offline/online and personal/private lives, Facebook has fast become another kink in the social fabric of our culture — one more way for people to express joy, save face, or make a mistake. What happens to a husband doesn’t post something positive about his wife leading up to Valentine’s Day? Probably nothing good.