While Facebook wants all the new users it can get, a huge influx of grandparents to the service probably isn’t the best way to solve the problem of declining usage among teenagers. But that’s exactly what’s happening, judging from the results of a new survey by the Pew Research Center Internet Project.
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Pew’s researchers asked 1,445 adults about their social networking habits, focusing on five platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. All five services saw user gains between 2012 and 2013.
For Facebook, the trend was clear: User growth is fastest in the oldest cohort. Among survey takers 65 and older, 45% identified themselves as Facebook users in the new survey. That’s up from 35% a year ago.
Zeroing in on the other end of the age spectrum, a different pattern emerges. Among those age 18 to 29, Facebook penetration actually fell somewhat, from 86% last year to 84% this year. That drop is within the 2.9% margin of error for the survey, but it’s roughly consistent with what Facebook’s own executives have recently acknowledged.
Worse still, the trend lines are similarly undesirable when usage is broken down by income rather than age. Facebook penetration is up sharply year-over-year among those with household income below $50,000 and down for those above that mark.
The silver lining here is that some of the usage shift may be a function of people transitioning their social-networking minutes from Facebook to Instagram, which Facebook owns. The photo-sharing service saw a huge jump in users age 18 to 29 (from 28% to 37% of the population) and it’s also up among those with household income of $50,000-plus.