Social Networking Platforms’ User Demographics Update 2018

March 12, 2018

This article is included in these additional categories:

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

The most widely-used social media platform in the US isn’t Facebook. It’s YouTube, a platform used by 73% of US adults and one that has broad consistency in usage across demographic groups. That’s according to a study [pdf] from the Pew Research Center, which provides some updates on social platform usage.

The following is a brief overview of some of the highlights from the report. (Click on the above chart to enlarge it and see full details.) For trend purposes, some of the following data is compared with a similar report issued by Pew in late 2016. However that earlier report showed figures among the online population rather than the broader adult population, so the only comparisons made concern differences in adoption by demographic group.

For empirical data on how the adult audiences of these platforms actually is distributed by demographic group (e.g. 23.7% of Snapchat’s US adult audience is aged 18-24 – a true stat), see MarketingCharts’ recently-released US Media Audience Demographics report.

Social Platforms


With 73% adoption among American adults, YouTube (not covered in the 2016 survey) is broadly popular with both men (75%) and women (72%). Its use is higher among multicultural groups, with Hispanic (78%) and Black (76%) adults ahead of White adults (71%).

Although YouTube use is highest in the youngest age bracket (94% of those ages 18-24), the drop-off in use among older groups isn’t terribly stark in comparison to other platforms. Fully two-thirds of adults ages 50-64 report using YouTube, as do 4 in 10 adults ages 65 and older.

YouTube use does seem to be correlated with income and educational attainment, increasing alongside each. In other words, the higher the household income of the respondent, the higher the likelihood of YouTube usage, with the same pattern applying for educational attainment.

Finally, YouTube appears to be favored more by urban (80%) and suburban (74%) adults than those living in rural areas (59%).


There have been various recent indications that Facebook adoption is declining in the US. This Pew report shows that while it’s behind YouTube, Facebook still boasts usage by about two-thirds (68%) of the adult population.

As found in the 2016 study, Facebook use remains higher among women (74%) than men (62%). Among age groups, its adoption is relatively consistent among the 18-24 (80%), 25-29 (82%) and 30-49 (78%) brackets.

Older age groups have also adopted Facebook: its usage by 50-64-year-olds (65%) and those ages 65 and older (41%) is on par with YouTube usage among those age brackets.

The same household income and educational attainment patterns apply to Facebook as do to YouTube, though the gap between the highest and lowest brackets of each are a bit narrower. This appears to be a reversal from the 2016 study, when lower-income adults were more likely to use the platform and there were no distinct differences by educational attainment.

Finally, Facebook is more commonly used by urban (75%) and suburban (67%) adults than among those living in rural areas (58%). That represents another shift from 2016, when these groups were more on par in their adoption.


Instagram adoption certainly seems to be growing. It’s now used by 35% of adults, whereas in 2016 it was used by only 28%.

There are some notably discrepancies in Instagram use among demographic groups:

  • Black adults (43%) are considerably more likely to use the platform than White adults (32%);
  • Instagram use is far higher among 18-24-year-olds (71%) than among 50-64-year-olds (21%) and those ages 65 and up (10%);
  • While there’s no clear pattern in use among household income segments, those with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to use Instagram than others; and
  • Urban adults (42%) are far more apt to use Instagram than rural adults (25%).

It’s worth noting that while the age gaps are quite stark with Instagram, more 30-49-year-olds say they use the platform than use Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter.


Pinterest is used by roughly 3 in 10 (29% of) US adults, and has several characteristics that make it stand out from the pack in terms of demographic variances.

For one, it is the platform with the biggest gap in use by gender. In fact, women are more than twice as likely as men to use Pinterest (41% and 16%, respectively).

Notably, Pinterest is also the only platform of the 8 measured to have higher usage by White (32%) adults than Black and Hispanic adults (23% each).

In another distinguishing characteristic, Pinterest is one of only 3 of the platforms measured to have broader use among the 25-29 (39%) than 18-24 (31%) age bracket.

And it’s the only platform that lacks any difference in adoption among urban (29%), suburban (31%) and rural (28%) adults.

Finally, there seems to be a strong correlation between usage and both household income and educational attainment. Those with at least a college degree (40%), for example, are more than twice as likely as those with high school or less (18%) to use Pinterest.


Snapchat, used now by more than one-quarter (27%) of adults, shares similar patterns of adoption with Instagram.

Namely, it’s more commonly used by women (31%) than men (23%), and seems to have particular appeal with Black (36%) adults.

As is well known, Snapchat – like Instagram – tends to be a youth-oriented platform, with a high of 78% adoption among 18-24-year-olds, dropping to just 3% of adults ages 65 and older.

It’s also more commonly used by urban (42%) than rural (25%) adults, though it doesn’t show any clear differences by educational attainment or household income.


One in 4 adults in the US uses LinkedIn, according to the report, equal among both men (25%) and women (25%). That’s in contrast to 2016, when this platform was more popular among men.

While White (26%) and Black (28%) adults use LinkedIn at a similar rate, the platform has not caught on among Hispanics (13%), who are about half as likely to use it.

LinkedIn tends to have one of the more consistent adoption rates across age groups from 18-24 (25%) up to 50-64 (24%), with the age groups in between showing higher adoption rates, of around one-third.

LinkedIn is far more likely to be used by adults with at least a college degree (50%) than by those with high school or less (9%). This hasn’t changed from the 2016 study, when the same discrepancy was apparent.

LinkedIn usage also rises alongside household income, and is highest among urban adults.


Twitter usage has grown since 2016: whereas back then it was used by 24% of online adults, now it’s used by 24% adults overall.

Twitter use is consistent among genders, and is slightly higher among Black (26%) adults than those of other races and ethnicities.

It shows a fairly clear pattern of age-related use, highest among 18-24-year-olds (45%) and dropping with each successive age bracket to 8% of the 65+ group.

As with other platforms, Twitter use is broader among adults with higher household incomes and educational attainment, and is more widespread among urban than rural adults.

None of these patterns seems to have changed since 2016, though the urban/rural gap appears to have widened since then.


A new platform in this year’s study, WhatsApp is used by 22% of US adults.

Its distinguishing characteristic is its usage by Hispanics: fully 49% of Hispanic adults report using WhatsApp, a rate more than twice as high as the average.

Interestingly, WhatsApp usage is highest among the 30-49 age group (32%), the only platform for which this is the case. (That said, 31% of 25-29-year-olds use the messaging platform, which is well within the margin of error.)

WhatsApp use is highest among the most well-off and well-educated, but there is not a clear linear pattern of use when sorting by these variables.

Finally, just 9% of rural adults use WhatsApp, well below the national average.

Site Usage: Frequency and Cross-Over

Facebook continues to boast heavy engagement among its users, per the study. Excluding LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Pinterest from this particular section, the report shows that about three-quarters (74%) of Facebook users say they access the platform on a daily basis. That’s not only the highest rate of the 5 platforms measured, but hasn’t changed much from 2016 (76%).

Here’s a victory for Snapchat over Instagram: 63% of Snapchat users say they access the platform daily, including 49% who report doing so multiple times a day. That compares favorably with Instagram, which is used by 60% of its audience daily, but with a fewer 38% doing so several times a day.

Snapchat also gets the edge in terms of engagement among its youngest adults. Some 71% of its 18-24-year-old users report visiting the platform several times a day, compared to 55% of Instagram users of that age.

Meanwhile, fewer than half of Twitter (46%) and YouTube (45%) users say they use these platforms daily.

Separately, the median American uses 3 of the 8 platforms tracked as part of the report, as the report details a “substantial amount of overlap” between users of the platforms.

Given the widespread adoption of YouTube and Facebook, it’s perhaps no surprise that a majority of users of each platform also indicates that they use Facebook and YouTube.

This “reciprocity” is also apparent among other sites, too, though:

  • Almost three-quarters of Twitter users also use Instagram;
  • More than half of Twitter users (54%) also use Snapchat;
  • Six in 10 Instagram users also use Snapchat;
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of Snapchat users also use Instagram; and
  • About half of LinkedIn users also use Pinterest.

The full report can be accessed here [pdf]. For more on the demographic make-up of various major media platforms in the US, see MarketingCharts’ US Media Audience Demographics report.

About the Data: Pew notes as part of the description of its methodology that:

“The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 3-10, 2018, among a national sample of 2,002 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,502 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 1,071 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers under the direction of Abt Associates.”

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