A study of 12 million Facebook users found that not only can it boost your longevity, but it can maintain and enhance your real-world connections, too.
Online Friendships Can Lead to Longer Lives
The study’s lead authors, William Hobbs and James Fowler of UC San Diego, collaborated with colleagues at Facebook and Yale. The study findings highlighted what scientists have known about offline social networks for years: having strong friendships lengthens lifespans. Now, for the first time, it’s indicated that online friendships can lead to longer lives, too.
The authors emphasize that because the study is an association study, it can’t prove causation. That said, it appears that online interactions can improve health.
How Facebook Use Relates to Your Health
Hobbs, Fowler, and the other researchers matched California Facebook users with vital records from the California Department of Public Health. All those whose records were analyzed were born between 1945 and 1989, and all comparisons were made between people of similar age and gender. To preserve privacy, all data was de-identified and aggregated.
To determine whether a relationship exists between Facebook use and longevity, researchers compared the online activity of those still living to those who had died. The first thing they found was that those who were on Facebook lived longer than those who are not. The average Facebook user is approximately 12% less likely to die during a given year than someone who does not have an account on the site. This was the broadest of their published findings, and they noted that social and economic differences could likely contribute to the varying longevity rates of the user and non-user groups.
Analyzing Social Engagement on Facebook
For all the Facebook users, the researchers analyzed different measures of engagement, such as…
- Number of friends
- Number of photos
- Status updates
- Number of posts on other users’ walls
- Messages sent
The goal was to determine whether more active users lived longer. They controlled their analysis not only by age and gender, but also by relationship status, length of time since signing up for the account, and smartphone use (as an indicator of income). The researchers found that users with average to large social networks—those in the top 30 to 50%—lived significantly longer than those in the lowest 10%. This mirrors the correlation previous studies have found between in-person social network size and longevity.
The study also found that Facebook users who integrated their interactions online into the fabric of their offline life—as gauged by the number of photos posted—and those who accepted the most friend requests lived the longest of all.
Further Investigations of the Facebook-Longevity Connection
One thing that has yet to be determined, both Hobbs and Fowler say, is whether having a greater number of friendships can help you to live longer, or whether those who are more likely to live longer naturally attract more friends.
“The association between longevity and social networks was identified by Lisa Berkman in 1979, and has been replicated hundreds of times since,” said Fowler. “We’re adding to that conversation by showing that online relationships are associated with longevity, too.”
The researchers hope their initial study will inspire subsequent investigations that can help to determine which types of online experiences are most likely to improve your health and extend your lifespan.
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