Half of all U.S. adults now use social networking sites

Baby Boomers are increasing their use of the sites and older Americans are still coming aboard

WASHINGTON (AUGUST 26, 2011) –  Fully 65% of adult internet users now say they use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 61% one year ago. This marks the first time in Pew Internet surveys that 50% of all adults use social networking sites.

These figures come from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and mark a dramatic increase from the first time the Project surveyed about social networking sites in February of 2005. At that time just 8% of internet users or 5% of all adults said they used them.

SNS use over time

Among internet users, social networking sites are most popular with women and young adults, but most of the growth over the past year came from adults over age 30. Looking at overall usage, wired seniors grew their ranks the most over the past year; 33% of those ages 65 and older now use the sites, compared with 26% one year ago.

As of May 2011:

  • 83% of internet users ages 18-29 use SNS, compared with
  • 70% of 30-49 year-olds
  • 51% of 50-64 year-olds, and
  • 33% of those ages 65 and older

Looking at usage on a typical day, 43% of online adults use social networking, up from 38% a year ago. Out of all the “daily” online activities that we ask about, only email (which 61% of internet users access on a typical day) and search engines (which 59% use on a typical day) are used more frequently than social networking tools.

The frequency of social networking site usage among young adult internet users was stable over the last year – 61% of online Americans in that age cohort now use SNS on a typical day, compared with 60% one year ago. However, among the Boomer-aged segment of internet users ages 50-64, SNS usage on a typical day grew a significant 60% (from 20% to 32%). 

“The graying of social networking sites continues, but the oldest users are still far less likely to be making regular use of these tools,” said Mary Madden, a Senior Research Specialist with the Project and co-author of the report. “While seniors are testing the waters, many Baby Boomers are beginning to make a trip to the social media pool part of their daily routine,” said Madden.

How people feel about social networking sites

In a separate question, when social networking users were asked for one word to describe their experiences using social networking sites, “good” was the most common response. Overall, positive responses far outweighed the negative and neutral words that were associated with social networking sites (more than half of the respondents used positive terms). Users repeatedly described their experiences as “fun,” “great,” “interesting” and “convenient.” Less common were superlatives such as “astounding,” “necessity,” and “empowering.”

“Social networking sites continue to cement their place as a significant part of mainstream online life,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a Research Specialist and co-author of the report. “Even as some users find their experiences with social networking sites frustrating or overwhelming, most seem to view the services positively on the whole.”