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New eMarketer Report Explores Boomers' Relationship with Social

One should not overstate Facebook’s presence among boomers

April 21, 2017 | Demographics | Social Media

Amid anecdotes about teens fleeing a Facebook overrun by grandparents, boomers have indeed established a presence in social media. Still, not even half are users, and relatively few who are have ventured beyond Facebook, according to a new eMarketer report, “US Baby Boomers: Forging Their Next Relationship with Digital Technology—Maybe.” (The full report is available only to eMarketer PRO subscribers.)

eMarketer estimates that 47.6% of US boomers will be social network users this year, far lower than the figures for millennials (86.1%) and Gen Xers (74.7%). Boomer penetration is expected to remain under 50% into the next decade.

US Social Network User Penetration, by Generation, 2017 (% of population)

Nonetheless, social networking occupies a big chunk of boomers’ digital time.

Nielsen research of US adults in Q3 2016 found the 50-and-older cohort averaged 4 hours 9 minutes per week using social media. Though lower than the figures for younger people, this accounted for nearly as big a proportion of 50-plusers’ total digital media time.

Social usage takes up much of boomers’ digital time partly due to the mobile element. For a generation that has been slow to use smartphones extensively, social networking is a function that has broken through. Nielsen found US social users ages 50 and older spent 63% of their social media time via smartphone in Q3 2016.

The always-on convergence of social and mobile can be burdensome for younger people. But boomers are less apt to bring fear-of-missing-out obsessiveness to their usage, judging by August 2016 polling of US internet users by the American Psychological Association (APA). Nearly half of the millennials said they worry about negative effects of social usage on their physical and emotional health, vs. barely one-fifth of boomers.

Listen to analyst Mark Dolliver discuss boomers’ current digital usage in a recent episode of “Behind the Numbers.”

The plural “social media” is less apposite than the singular “social medium” in discussing boomers’ usage. For many boomers, Facebook is as far as they get into the social sphere.

Nearly all social networking boomers are Facebook users. eMarketer estimates Facebook penetration among US social users in that generation at 89.8%, closely matching the figures for millennials and Xers.

Social Network User Penetration Among US Baby Boomers, by Platform, 2017 (% of population)

Boomers are not joining Facebook and then ignoring it. In Cowen and Company polling from August 2016, 62% of Facebookers ages 55 to 64 said they use it daily, as did 54% of those 65 and over. When a Sprout Social survey in January 2017 asked US internet users to identify their preferred social platform, 65.2% of respondents 55 and older cited Facebook.

All that said, one should not overstate Facebook’s presence among boomers. Calculated as a proportion of population (rather than of social users), eMarketer estimates that just around four in 10 (42.7%) US boomers will use Facebook at least monthly this year.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “US Baby Boomers: Forging Their Next Relationship with Digital Technology—Maybe.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer PRO customers.

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