Social Media Use Divides Along Class Lines

Despite the spread of cheaper, Web-connected gadgets, the country still faces a stark digital divide along socioeconomic lines.

While usage rates have increased considerably across all demographics over the past ten years, consumers with higher household incomes are still significantly more likely to use social media.

That’s according to new research from the Pew Research Center, which focused specifically on social media trends.

In 2005, 4% of those living in households earning less than $30,000 used social media, compared with 12% of those living in households earning $75,000 or more.

Today, 56% of those in the lowest-income households use social media compared 78% of those living in the highest-income households.

Those who have attended at least some college are also more likely to use social media -- a consistent trend since 2005, Pew found. In 2005, 4% of those with a high school diploma or less, 8% of those who attended some college and 12% of college graduates used social media. 

Today, 54% of those who have a high school diploma or less, 70% of those with some college and 76% of those with college degree use social media.

“These differences in social media usage by socioeconomic status reflect longstanding disparities in Internet usage more broadly,” Aaron Smith, Associate Director of Research at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, said Thursday.

“Even today, 15% of Americans don’t use the Internet, and socioeconomic factors play a substantial role in whether people go online or not,” Smith said.

What about the rise of cheaper mobile devices?

“Mobile access (in the form of smartphones) absolutely does play an outsized role in helping to provide online access for people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, but even on that front we still see disparities in ownership around income and education,” Smith said.

Indeed, 78% of U.S. consumers with a college degree have a smartphone, compared to only 52% of those with a high school diploma or less, Pew found.

“And even for lower-income users who do own a smartphone, that ownership can present financial challenges of its own,” Smith noted.

In fact, Pew found that 44% of smartphone owners with an annual household income of less than $30,000 have had to cancel or cut off their cellphone service for a period of time because it was a financial hardship to maintain.

Regarding today’s digital divide, the fault lines don’t appear to closely correspond with racial, ethnic or general geographic differences.

On the contrary, 65% of whites, 65% of Hispanics and 56% of African-Americans use social media today, while 58% of rural residents, 68% of suburban residents, and 64% of urban residents use social media.

Across the board, the number of U.S. consumers using social media has increased nearly tenfold (from 7% to 65%) over the past 10 years.

Pew said its analysis was based on a compilation of 27 surveys, and about 62,000 individual interviews conducted between March and July of this year.

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