Study: Family Income Plays a Role in Student Facebook Use

Social media use among college students is strongly correlated with their economic background, a new study finds. According to Bianca Bosker of the Huffington Post, students from higher income families tend to utilize the Facebook social network more often than their lower-income peers.

The study, headed by Libraries Associate Professor Reynol Junco of Purdue University, looked at social media use by nearly 2,400 college students of all income levels with an average age of 22. The goal of the study, according to Junco, was to determine which demographic factors – including gender, socioeconomic background and race – play a role in determining who uses the site to connect and share with others and who doesn’t.

The students were asked to estimate and report how many hours a day they were spending on Facebook.

Junco found that students used the site with equal frequency, irrespective of their backgrounds, spending an average of 101 minutes a day on Facebook. But those whose parents completed a lower level of education — a proxy for socioeconomic status — were less inclined to engage in seven of 14 of core social activities on Facebook, including tagging photos, messaging privately, chatting on the site and creating or RSVPing to events, according to the study.
While the study did not determine if there were any activities that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to engage in, what those students are less likely to do on the site is notable, Junco wrote.

From the survey results, Junco was able to conclude that college students from slesser socioeconomic backgrounds were less likely to use Facebook for communicating with friends and sharing their lives – the chief purpose of social media. Junco also speculated that using Facebook less could have a negative impact on the students’ future lives and careers since they lost the benefits of “increased social capital, improved social integration and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.”

The study, as Junco readily acknowledges, is not without its problems. For a start, it depends on self-reporting for its conclusions, a method that Junco previously found to be an unreliable way to determine web or internet use.

Another issue is that previous studies have found a correlation between increased Facebook use and lower academic performance.

While acknowledging that some studies have found increased Facebook usage can harm academic performance, Junco maintains that the socializing Facebook fosters can lead to stronger relationships among students — ultimately improving their on-campus experience. He explained that the seven Facebook activities that are less popular among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are all important facilitators of inter-peer communication, and that abstaining from those activities means those students risk not forming as close bonds with others on their campus as they otherwise would.