BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Facebook began in the early 2000s as a social network popular among college students and young adults, but these days it seems the platform has matured into a soapbox tailor-made for moms, dads, and grandparents. That’s a key takeaway from a new study which finds that Facebook users are more likely to be middle-aged, female, married, or liberal-minded.
The research, led by Eric P.S. Baumer, who studies human and computer interaction at Lehigh University, also reveals that there are a host of economic and demographic factors behind people who use — and don’t use — Facebook.
Previous research boiled down Facebook use to a binary formula: you either use Facebook or you don’t. But Baumer identified four distinct types of Facebook users in his research:
- Current user, or a person who has and uses a Facebook account.
- Deactivated user, or one who has temporarily deactivated their account, but might reactivate it at any time.
- Considered deactivating user, or one who has considered deactivating their account, but never did.
- Never user — someone who has never had a Facebook account.
Baumer and his team analyzed data of 1,000 American adults and households collected by the Survey Research Institute at Cornell University in 2015 for the Cornell National Social Survey. Baumer used probabilistic modeling to identify predictors for the four types of Facebook use and non-use. He found eight predictors of use and non-use: age, gender, marital status, whether the respondent has searched for jobs or work in the past four weeks, household income, weight, social ideology, and race.
“The analysis helps to explain the ways that Facebook, and likely all social media, are not representative of the broader population,” says Baumer in a media release.
Current Facebook use is more common among users who are between 40 and 60 years old, female, not seeking employment, have a higher income level, are of Asian descent, or are currently married. In fact, women were more than 2.6 times likelier than men to be a current Facebook user rather than one who’s never had an account.
Conversely, those most likely to have never held an account were male, older, from a lower-income household, of African-American descent, are more socially conservative, or weigh less than others. Age seemed to play a particular role in the findings. Adults over 60 were less likely to have ever had a Facebook account — for every one year of age, the odds a person wasn’t ever a user rose by 4.6%.
“Rather than try Facebook and leave, older respondents never had an account in the first place,” Baumer writes.
Facebook users who consider deactivation or actually do so tend to be younger and not married. The probability of deactivation, Baumer says, drops with a rise in age. Employment plays a role too: people more likely to deactivate are also more than twice as likely to be seeking a job.
“My analysis reveals that individuals from lower-income households are less likely ever to have had a Facebook account,” said Baumer “Yet, social networks have been shown to play an important role in fostering ‘social capital,’ which can be leveraged for accomplishing certain tasks, including securing employment. Also, respondents who had looked for work within the last four weeks were more likely to have deactivated their Facebook accounts–eliminating a potential resource in their job search.”
The study findings were presented at the 2018 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal. They were published in a paper in Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.