What Social Media You Use Says A Lot About How Wealthy You Are

April 18th 2015

Kathleen Toohill

Pew Research Center recently released a study, which found that social media sites teens (ages 13 to 17) use varies according to household income. Many of the social media platforms that the Pew study asked teens about varied in usage according to household income level.

The results.

For Facebook and Google+, more teens in the lowest income bracket (under $30,000) report using these sites than teens in the highest income bracket (over $75,000). For pinboard sites (likes Pinterest and Polyvore), discussion boards (like reddit), along with Tumblr and the ephemeral messaging system Snapchat, the user percentage of well-off teens is higher than those who are less affluent.

According to the study, Facebook usage is less prevalent among more well-off teens: 49 percent of teens living in households earning less than $50,000 annually report that Facebook is their most-used social media site, while only 37 percent of teens whose households make over $50,000 report using Facebook the most.

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center

Another Pew study from May 2013 reported that among teens age 12-17, those whose households made more than $50,000 per year were slightly less likely to report using a social networking site (78 percent) as compared to those whose households earned less than $50,000 (83 percent). An equal percentage of teens in both income brackets, 24 percent, reported Twitter use. 

Twitter use among teens today has increased to 33 percent, and there is a (slight) disparity in usage among teens who live in households earning under $50,000 households (35 percent) and those who live in households earning over $50,000 (31 percent). Pew’s new report suggests a greater diversification among the sites that teens are using, a trend that will surely continue to expand as teens leave the sites their parents are joining, in search of the newest trend in ephemerality or image construction.  

What does this mean?

Pew didn't extrapolate as to why different income groups are more inclined to use certain types of social media.The apps and websites evaluated in this study are free. Internet access is usually not, nor are the devices used to access the Internet, yet according to the study, 92 percent of teens go online every day. The fact that teens from different income levels choose different sites speaks to a myriad of cultural and socio-economic influences rather than a particular tablet or phone being prohibitively expensive. 

In January, a 19-year-old (white male) from the University of Texas in Austin published “A Teenager’s View of Social Media,” to medium. In the piece the student identified the purposes of various social media sites among his group of friends. Following the publication, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and author of "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens" Danah Boyd wrote a response urging for greater nuance and expanded perspective when it comes to interpreting teen behavior on the Internet. One site does not fit all, so to speak. In her post, Boyd urges readers to remember that one particular demographic’s experience on social media is not representative everyone's experience. 

“Let me put this bluntly: teens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography and cultural background,” writes Boyd. Later in the post, she writes, in reference to the danger of letting one narrative speak for all: “There’s a reason why researchers and organizations like Pew Research are doing the work that they do — they do so to make sure that we don’t forget about the populations that aren’t already in our networks.”