To study the role of divergent selection in the differentiation of the two morphs in a hybrid zone of the intertidal snail Littorina saxatilis, we compared the strength of the divergent selection acting on a series of shell characters (as estimated by the viability of snails in a reciprocal transplant experiment) with the contribution of these characters to the phenotypic differences between the morphs. We found a close correlation between selection and differentiation, which suggests a cause–effect relationship, i.e. that all present differentiation is the result of past divergent selection. In addition, divergent selection was a very important component of the total natural selection acting on shell measures. These novel results support previous evidence, based on allozyme analysis, of a parapatric origin for this hybrid zone. We discuss possible limitations of this interpretation and the circumstances under which allopatric differentiation would produce the same results. Phenotypic analysis of divergent selection may be a useful method of investigating the evolutionary mechanisms involved in differentiation processes.