The Income Disparity In College Student Social Media Use No One Is Talking About

When I present to higher education professionals on college students and social media, I often begin by providing some basic statistics on social media platform use and adoption.  My reason for sharing these statistics is to set the stage for our subsequent discussions.  Age is by far the biggest determinant of overall social media use.  If you are younger, you are far more likely to be on social media.  Outside of age, looking at other demographic factors (race, ethnicity, geography, etc.), social media adoption is relatively uniform.  What is not uniform, however, is what social media networks individuals are on.   When one digs deeper, one finds that people of different demographic groups are on different social media platforms.  For instance, Black-identified individuals are more likely to be on Twitter than other racial groups.  White women, in particular, love Pinterest.

SES diferences in SoMe Use

One of the slides I use (above) shows differences in social media platform adoption broken down by household income.  What I find of particular interest (and particularly disturbing) is the final set of bars representing the difference in LinkedIn adoption between users from households with incomes below $30,000 a year and those making over $75,000.  The reason I find this particularly disturbing is the implications it has for social mobility.  LinkedIn is a network focused on professional networking and career advancement.  The implication here is that the individuals we would most want to be on LinkedIn, those of lower socio-economic status, are on it the least.  When it comes to college students, I think it’s important that educators ask ourselves if we are appropriately equipping our students for post-college success.  We know that our first generation and low-income students are some of our most vulnerable students.  They often lack social capital and the networks required to secure higher paying jobs.  If these students are not on LinkedIn, the new place to network and find these jobs, then they will be at a disadvantage.

What can we do to change this?

All of the statistics referenced in this post come from the Pew Internet and American Life Project–one of the best and most comprehensive datasets tracking social media use in the United States.  The above statistics are not exclusively on college students, but represent the United States population as a whole.  It is likely, however, that these hold true for college students, particularly those 18-24 years old, since older generations, if they are on social media, are more likely to be on LinkedIn than their younger counterparts.

3 thoughts on “The Income Disparity In College Student Social Media Use No One Is Talking About

  1. What platform do Latino/as use most?

    Do you have any explanation for why white women flock to Pinterest or why Black-identified individuals use Twitter so much?

    1. I’d have to dig into the data for Latino/a use, but as I remember, there wasn’t a standout in particular.

      Part of why there is some of this segmentation is likely due to affinity communities online. If there is a community that understands you and has the same interests, you may “clump” together. There’s probably some of that going on.

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