Social Media Update: Adoption Trends, by Demographic

October 15, 2015

This article is included in these additional categories:

African-American | Boomers & Older | Digital | Hispanic | Household Income | Men | Social Media | Women | Youth & Gen X

Pew-Social-Adoption-Trends-2005-2015-Oct2015More than three-quarters (76%) of internet-using adults – and almost two-thirds (66%) of American adults overall – use at least one social networking site, according to the latest social media adoption report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The 66% of adults using social media represents a slight uptick from 62% over the last couple of years, with increases in adoption seen for the 18-29 and 65+ groups, among others.

The following provides a brief overview of adoption trends by demographic group. The Pew report trends adoption rates back to 2005, when social networking use was nascent at just 7% of adults. However, this article takes a more recent look, measuring adoption trends from 2010 (46% of adults) onwards. (See the relevant charts for full trended data to 2005.)

Adoption by Age Group


There continues to be a strong tilt in adoption towards younger age groups, but the gap has closed over the years. This year, 90% of adults aged 18-29 are social media users, up from 78% in 2010. Not far behind, some 78% of 30-49-year-olds count as social media users, with that figure up from 53% in 2010.

Interestingly, the percentage of 50-64-year-olds who use social networking has been stagnant over the past couple of years. This year, 51% report being social media users, down a point from 52% in 2013 and 2014. Nevertheless, that’s substantially higher than the 33% who reported social media use in 2010.

Meanwhile, the oldest group (65+) has seen the biggest recent spike in usage. This year, 35% of adults aged 65 and older report using social networking sites, a sizable jump from 27% last year, and triple the proportion (11%) from 2010.

Adoption by Gender


While women are often said to be the more active gender on social media, adoption rates among men and women have remained fairly comparable over the years, with the gap in adoption never exceeding 8 percentage points. This year, 68% of female adults report using at least one social networking site, versus 62% of men. Women have consistently – albeit slightly – outpaced men in usage since at least 2008, though men appear to have been the earliest adopters, with slightly higher rates of usage in 2005 and 2006.

Adoption by Education Level

Over the years, Americans with lower levels of education (high school graduate or less) have been less likely to use social networking sites as those with some college or a college degree. In fact, those with college or graduate degrees and those with some college education (or an Associate degree) have been almost equally likely to be social media users since 2008, though a slight gap has opened up this year.


  • 76% of Americans with a college or graduate degree use social media, up from 55% in 2010;
  • 70% of those with some college or an Associate degree use social media, up from 56% in 2010; and
  • 54% of American adults with a high school degree or less use social media, up from 35% in 2010.

Adoption by Household Income


As with the age segmentation, there appears to be a trend in adoption when sorting by household income, with adoption increasing alongside household income.

This year, 78% of adults with household income of at least $75k use social networking sites, up from 58% in 2010. Among those with $50-75k in household income, adoption has grown from 52% to 72% over that period, while among the $30-50k group, social media use has increased from 49% to 69%.

The lowest-income group (less than $30k) actually reports a slight dip in social media usage this year, with the 56% adoption rate down slightly from 58% last year and 57% the year before. While adoption has – unsurprisingly – grown from 39% in 2010, the lowest-income group has consistently been the least likely to use social media over the past decade.

Adoption by Race/Ethnicity

As with the gender segmentation, there are few differences when sorting social media use by race and ethnicity. While Hispanics proved the earliest adopters – in being the most likely to social media from 2005 through 2008 – there have been fewer disparities since then. In 2010, for example, adoption was almost equal among non-Hispanics Whites (46%), Hispanics (45%) and non-Hispanic Blacks (43%).

However, the survey results this year show a dip in usage among non-Hispanic blacks, down 4 percentage points to 56% adoption. That now trails the adoption rate among White non-Hispanics (65%) and Hispanics (65%).

Adoption by Community Type

One demographic segment that has habitually lagged in social media adoption is the rural population. A majority 58% of rural Americans now use at least one social networking site, up from 37% in 2010. However, that trails usage among residents of other community types.

Interestingly, while the percentage of urban residents using social media has been flat over the past couple of years (64% this year, compared to 63% last year and 65% in 2013), adoption rates among suburban Americans has steadily increased. As such, suburban residents are now the most likely to be social media users, with 68% reporting use of at least one social networking site.

Detailed data showing the demographic breakdown of users of the leading social media sites can be found here.

About the Data: Pew describes its methodology in part as follows:

“This analysis of social media usage is based on a compilation of 27 surveys and about 47,000 interviews among adult internet users and about 62,000 interviews among all adults conducted by Pew Research Center from March 2005 to July 2015. These surveys are combined, allowing for comparisons of trends among different demographic groups across years. Yearly totals are calculated by combining all surveys for the calendar year with appropriate weights applied. Weighting to adjust for disproportionate sampling and nonresponse reduces the precision of estimates beyond what would be achieved under simple random sampling. In this report, all measures of sampling error and statistical tests of significance take into account the design effect of weighting.”

More methodological details can be found by following the link provided above.

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