Adults Outnumber Teens on Social Networks

Teens aren’t alone in the growing population of social networkers; adults are increasing among the ranks of the popular online sites, says “Adults and Social Network Web Sites,” a study released by Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Use of social networking sites among those 18 and older quadrupled over the past four years. The percentage of adults using sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn grew from 8 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2008. While 65 percent of online teens have profiles on social networking sites, Pew Internet Senior Research Specialist Amanda Lenhart points out that adults make up a larger portion of the U.S. population, so the 35 percent represents a larger number of users than the 65 percent of teens on social networks.

Heavier usage occurs with younger adults:

  • 75 percent of online adults 18 to 24 have a profile on a social networking site.
  • 57 percent of online adults 25 to 34 have a profile on a social networking site.
  • 30 percent of online adults 35 to 44 have a profile on a social networking site.
  • 19 percent of online adults 45 to 54 have a profile on a social networking site.
  • 10 percent of online adults 65 and older have a profile on a social networking site.

“It is important to pay attention to age,” said Lenhart. “The age suggests that though they may be adults, [a high percentage of users” were recently teens. The large picture is it’s younger Americans who are using these sites.”

The predominant motivation for creating a social network presence was social rather than professional. Eighty-nine percent use their online profiles to keep up with friends; 57 percent use them to make plans with friends; and 49 percent use them to make new friends. To a lesser degree, some use social networking sites to organize with other people for events, issues, or causes; to flirt; to promote themselves or their work; or to make business contacts.

MySpace is the most popular networking site. Fifty percent of adult social network users have a profile on the Fox Interactive Media-owned site. Facebook follows with 22 percent of the adult social networking audience. Six percent of adult social networking users have a profile on LinkedIn. The study finds MySpace users are more likely to be women, to be Hispanic or black, and to have a high school education or some experience with college; their median age is 27. Facebook users are more likely to be men, with a college degree and a median age of 26. LinkedIn users have a higher median age, 40, and are more likely to be male and white and to have a college degree.

An aggregate 10 percent of adult online social network users have profiles on other sites beyond the top three. Online users often have multiple profiles on alternate sites, depending on their interests or where their friends are. “Half of social network users have more than one profile,” said Lenhart. “They compartmentalize their lives. Often you’ll have more than one profile for each on different sites. Hockey on one site, and gardening on another site. Or maybe you’ll have one profile for gaming and another for family.”

Primarily social network users set up profiles to follow friends. “If you elect to use [a social network site”, you stay connected and in touch with everybody,” Lenhart said.

Pew Internet conducted a survey in May 2008 and December 2008 and trended it against a survey it conducted in 2005.

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