Facebook’s age and gender gaps

A satirical, but not entirely inaccurate, comment on differences in Facebook use by gender. (Click to enlarge.)

The dynamics among even a relatively small number of Facebook contacts can be fascinating to watch. For those whose Facebook accounts feel at times like a permanent high school reunion, it can be instructive to observe who’s gone how far in moving on with their lives. Some never left the old neighbourhood, or did so but clearly miss the old days, while others obviously left like a bat out of Hell and never looked back.

Among family members, patterns can also be seen in who seems to get along best with whom, and who seems most aloof from whom.

Within an individual profile, it can also be interesting to watch the “eight friends” box on the right-hand side of one’s own page. Facebook downplays the meaning of who shows up in that box, but it is not likely to be chance that causes ex-Winnipeggers to pop up whenever I post something about what’s new in Winnipeg, aviation buffs to replace them when I subsequently post something about aviation, and news junkies to appear whenever I post something related to current affairs.

The astute observer might also have noticed a visible difference between how men, women and different age groups use Facebook, as illustrated by the satirical picture above.

These differences are no myth. In 2011, researchers working on behalf of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg set out to more closely examine what makes Facebook users tick. Their research eventually took in the opinions and habits of 1,011 Swedish Facebook users.

Though they concluded that men slightly outnumber women among Swedish Facebook users, by about 55 percent to 45 percent, women spent more time on the site: an average of 81 minutes per day, versus 64 minutes among male users.

Once online, the researchers found clear differences in how men and women use Facebook. Women showed a distinctly stronger interest in what old friends were up to, showing encouragement or concern for others, uploading pictures, reading status updates, expressing feelings, and visiting other peoples’ profiles. Men were more likely to share or broadcast information and to be provocative.

The researchers also noticed a critical difference between the genders when it came to Facebook use and life satisfaction. Among men, there was little connection between the amount of time they spent on Facebook and how satisfied they were with their lives. Among women, however, there was a negative correlation: those who spent more time on Facebook tended to be more dissatisfied with their lives; those who spent less time on Facebook tended to feel better about their lives.

Age also played a substantial role in terms of Facebook use. Younger users aged 14-26 years were significantly more likely to log on by force of habit or without thinking about it, and to stay logged on just to pass the time. Those aged 36 years or older, however, were more likely to deliberately sign on to show care or concern for others, write status updates about events in their lives, and to share information with others.

Finally, the researchers made an observation that won’t come as a surprise to Facebook users: unlike our real-life social networks, our Facebook social networks can tend to stay fixed in time.

“Facebook is primarily used for maintenance of existing social contacts and networks, rather than to meet new people,” the Swedish researchers wrote. Younger people aged 14-26 years were the most likely to browse the profiles of people they don’t know, though only 29 percent said this was an important part of their Facebook routine. Among those aged 36 years and over, just 10 percent said this was an important part of their Facebook use.

To that end, one can only recommend Twitter’s cocktail party-like chatter or even blogging as a better way of meeting new people. Or, better yet, a gym membership.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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