Award Abstract #2030593

RAPID: Online Social Networks, Relationships, and COVID-19

NSF Directorate:
SBE - Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences
NSF Division:

Division of Social and Economic Sciences

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Program Manager:

Joseph Whitmeyer

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Michael J Rosenfeld [email protected] (Principal Investigator)


Stanford University
450 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford CA 943052004

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The unique situation of a majority of Americans called upon to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic has created society-wide social distancing in the U.S. for the first time since the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. How will social distancing affect marriages and other romantic relationships? This project will analyze couple stability or instability under conditions of extraordinary stress. We know that the coronavirus pandemic will have serious and potentially devastating short term impacts on health, mortality, employment, and economic production. It is possible, however, that social life and social relations may prove more resilient during the crisis than people would ordinarily expect. An understanding of the resilience of social relationships under extraordinary stress will provide the public with more confidence that future crises can be overcome. As family and relationship satisfaction is a key contributor to general well-being and low mortality, this study seeks to understand the ability of Americans to survive the pandemic with their relationships intact, thus contributing to health and well-being of the U. S. population.

We know very little about the extent to which social relationships can endure during a crisis that entails sustained social distancing. This project will field two nationally representative follow-up surveys to approximately 1600 American adults. The first follow-up survey will take place during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place period. The second follow-up will be fielded once the shelter-in-place orders have been substantially lifted. Both surveys will longitudinally follow subjects and relationships first identified in the How Couples Meet and Stay Together (HCMST) 2017 survey. The resulting dataset will have measures of couple satisfaction, couple stability and breakup, couple co-residence, income, employment, online social network use, and relationship history for the same set of subjects from before, during, and after the COVID-19 lock down. The project will analyze transitions to breakup, transitions to cohabitation, and transitions to marriage using multivariable event history methods. The different state prevalence of COVID-19 cases and the variable state responses to the pandemic will represent an important natural experiment for the social effects of a lock down policy. Findings from the project will inform sociological theories of relationship transition involving marriage, cohabitation, and partnering, as well as relationship satisfaction.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.