Associations between Comparison on Social Media and Depressive Symptoms: A Study of Young Parents

Abstract

We aimed to assess associations between parental social media comparison (PSMC)—the degree to which individuals compare their parenting with others on social media (SM)—and depressive symptoms. In March 2018 we conducted a survey of 528 parents ages 18-30 with children under the age of 18. Participants were asked about SM use, PSMC, and depressive symptoms. PSMC was measured with 7 Likert-type items that asked participants the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “Based on their posts, other parents on social media appear to provide a better social life for their children than I do.” Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Multivariable ordered logistic regression models were used to assess the association between PSMC and depressive symptoms while controlling for SM use, parent adverse childhood experiences, parent age, gender, race/ethnicity, relationship status, employment status and household income, age of oldest child, and number of children. The PSMC was internally consistent (α = 0.94). In multivariable models, after adjusting for all covariates, there was 51% greater odds of elevated depressive symptoms (AOR = 1.51, 95% CI [1.33, 1.71]) for every one-point increase on the PSMC scale. In conclusion, the PSMC is independently associated with elevated depressive symptoms among parents. Future research should assess directionality of these associations and further explore parents’ experiences of comparison with others on SM.

Highlights

  • We developed a Parental Social Media Comparison scale (PSMC) to assess how parents compare themselves on social media.

  • We found that a one-point increase in PSMC was associated with 51% greater odds of elevated depressive symptoms.

  • This association was apparent even after controlling for covariates associated with depression and social media use.

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Data Availability

Data are not available now as the larger research study is not yet completed. However, the data can be requested from the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge Michelle Woods for editorial assistance. This work was supported by a grant from the Fine Foundation of Pittsburgh. The funder of this research had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of data; preparation, review, or approval of the paper; or decision to submit the paper for publication.

Funding

This study was funded by the Fine Foundation of Pittsburgh.

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Contributions

(CRediT): J.E.S.: Conceptualization; Methodology; Investigation; Visualization; Writing- Original Draft; Writing- Review and Editing. A.S.: Methodology; Formal Analysis; Data Curation; Visualization; Investigation; Writing- Original Draft; Writing- Review and Editing. C.G.E.-V.: Methodology; Investigation; Writing- Review and Editing. B.A.P.: Investigation; Writing- Review and Editing; Supervision; Funding Acquisition.

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Correspondence to Jaime E. Sidani.

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This project was approved by the University of Pittsburgh Human Research Protection Office, and informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Sidani, J.E., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C.G. et al. Associations between Comparison on Social Media and Depressive Symptoms: A Study of Young Parents. J Child Fam Stud 29, 3357–3368 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01805-2

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Keywords

  • Social media use
  • Social comparison
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Mental health
  • Parents