Nearly two-thirds of American adults (65%) use social networking sites, up from 7% when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005. Pew Research reports have documented in great detail how the rise of social media has affected such things as work, politics and political deliberation, communications patterns around the globe, as well as the way people get and share information about health, civic life, news consumption, communities, teenage life, parenting, dating and even people’s level of stress.
A special analysis of 27 national surveys of Americans across the past decade documents this substantial spread of technology throughout the population, although the overall number of users of social networking sites has leveled off since 2013.1 At the same time, there continues to be growth in social media usage among some groups that were not among the earliest adopters, including older Americans.
The figures reported here are for social media usage among all adults, not just among those Americans who are internet users. In many previous Pew Research reports, the share of social media users has been reported as the proportion of internet users who had adopted such sites, rather than the full adult population, which continues to include a relatively small share (currently 15%) who still remain offline. In this report, a broader picture of the American landscape is presented, and so the figures are based on the entire adult population.
Across demographic groups, a number of trends emerge in this analysis of social media usage:
- Age differences: Seniors make strides – Young adults (ages 18 to 29) are the most likely to use social media – fully 90% do. Still, usage among those 65 and older has more than tripled since 2010 when 11% used social media. Today, 35% of all those 65 and older report using social media, compared with just 2% in 2005.
- Gender differences: Women and men use social media at similar rates – Women were more likely than men to use social networking sites for a number of years, although since 2014 these differences have been modest. Today, 68% of all women use social media, compared with 62% of all men.
- Socio-economic differences: Those with higher education levels and household income lead the way – Over the past decade, it has consistently been the case that those in higher-income households were more likely to use social media. More than half (56%) of those living in the lowest-income households now use social media, though growth has leveled off in the past few years. Turning to educational attainment, a similar pattern is observed. Those with at least some college experience have been consistently more likely than those with a high school degree or less to use social media over the past decade. 2013 was the first year that more than half of those with a high school diploma or less used social media.
- Racial and ethnic similarities: There are not notable differences by racial or ethnic group: 65% of whites, 65% of Hispanics and 56% of African-Americans use social media today.
- Community differences: More than half of rural residents now use social media – Those who live in rural areas are less likely than those in suburban and urban communities to use social media, a pattern consistent over the past decade. Today, 58% of rural residents, 68% of suburban residents, and 64% of urban residents use social media.
What follows is an overview of changes over time in social media by various demographic groups. A full archive of Pew Research Center reports on different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn as well as about social media usage on mobile devices in general can be found at: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/topics/social-networking/.
Social Media Usage by Age: Ubiquitous Among Youngest Adults, Notable Among Older Adults
Age is strongly correlated with social media usage: Those ages 18 to 29 have always been the most likely users of social media by a considerable margin. Today, 90% of young adults use social media, compared with 12% in 2005, a 78-percentage point increase. At the same time, there has been a 69-point bump among those ages 30-49, from 8% in 2005 to 77% today.
While usage among young adults started to leveled off as early as 2010, since then there has been a surge in usership among those 65 and older. In 2005, 2% of seniors used social media, compared with 35% today.
Social Media Usage by Gender: A Shifting Balance Over Time, With Parity Today
In 2005, 8% of men and 6% of women used social media.
Starting in 2009, women started using social media at slightly higher rates than men, although this balance has shrunk yet again in recent years. Today, 68% of women and 62% of men report social media usage, a difference that is not statistically significant.
Social Media Usage by Educational Attainment: Those With Higher Education Levels More Likely to be Social Media Users
Those who have attended at least some college are more likely than those with a high school diploma or less to use social media, a trend that has been consistent since 2005. In that year, 4% of those with a high school diploma or less used social media, along with 8% of those who attended some college and 12% of college graduates.
Currently adoption rates for social media stand at 76% for those with college or graduate degrees, 70% of those with some college education and 54% for those who have a high school diploma or less.
At the same time, the share of those with a high school diploma or less who use social media has grown more than tenfold over the past decade.
Social Media Usage by Household Income: Those Living in Affluent Households More Likely to Be Social Media Users
There were modest differences by household income when Pew Research first began measuring social media usage in 2005: 4% of those living in households earning less than $30,000 used social media, compared with 12% of those living in household earning $75,000 or more.
Those differences have persisted even as each group has seen dramatic growth in usage.
Today, 78% of those living in the highest-income households use social media, compared with 56% of those in the lowest-income households – a 22-point difference.
Social Media Usage by Race/Ethnicity: Consistent Similarities
When it comes to race and ethnicity, trends in social media adoption are defined by similarities, not differences. Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics have broadly adopted social media at the same brisk pace.
In 2005, 6% of African-Americans, 7% of whites and 10% of Hispanics used social networking sites. Today, those figures stand at 56% of African-Americans and 65% of both whites and Hispanics.
Social Media Usage by Community Type: More Than Half of Rural Residents Now Use Social Media
Adults who live in rural communities have historically been the least likely to use social media. In 2005, 5% of rural residents, 7% of suburban residents and 9% of urban residents reported social media usage. Today, 58% of rural residents, 68% of suburban residents and 64% of urban residents use social media.