Half of US teens use the internet ‘almost constantly’. But where are they spending their time online?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stefan Ellerbeck, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • Almost half of US teenagers aged 13-17 say they are online “almost constantly”, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
  • The most popular social media platforms among this age group are YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, with less than a third saying they use Facebook.
  • However, the UN says 37% of the world’s population has still never used the internet, highlighting an ongoing global digital divide.

Lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic forced young people around the world to spend more time inside. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the amount of time they spent online has increased. However, new research offers some interesting insights as to exactly how long teenagers are spending online, and which sites are taking up most of their time.

A survey of 1,316 teenagers aged 13-17 in the US reveals that 97% now use the internet every day, up from 92% in 2014-15. However, the Pew Research Center’s most striking finding is perhaps that 46% say they use the internet “almost constantly” – a significant rise from 24% in 2014-15.

The biggest teen internet users

Black and Hispanic teenagers use the internet more than their white peers, with 55-56% saying they are online almost constantly, compared with 37% of white teenagers, the survey found. The researchers say this trend is consistent with previous research.

Older and urban teenagers of all races and backgrounds are also more likely to be online. And just over half of teens from households earning $30,000-74,999 a year say they use the internet nearly all the time, compared with 43% of those in households making at least $75,000.

Which sites do teens use?

The survey also asked US teens which social media sites they use. YouTube came out as the most popular, with 95% saying they regularly visit the website or app. Next up were TikTok on 67%, Instagram on 62% and Snapchat on 59%.

But the share of teenagers using Facebook has dropped sharply since 2014-15, sliding to 32% from 71%. Twitter and Tumblr use has also declined.

Around three-quarters of teenagers surveyed use YouTube daily, with 19% saying they use the site or app almost constantly. For TikTok, 58% use it daily, with around half saying the same for Snapchat and Instagram.

Of those who use Facebook, only 7% say they use it almost constantly. The researchers say the platform is still widely used by adults.

Many teens worry about their social media use

While 55% of the teens surveyed say the amount of time they spend on social media is about right, 36% are concerned that they use it too much, with teenage girls more likely to say this than boys.

Would they find it easy to quit social media? Opinions were split – 54% said it would be very or “somewhat hard”, while 46% said it would be “at least somewhat easy”.

Teenage girls are more likely than boys to say it would be hard to quit – 58% compared with 49%. And there is a similar gap between older and younger teenagers, with the older saying it would be harder to stop using social media.

The digital divide

Around 95% of teens now have access to a smartphone – up from 73% in 2014-15 – and those aged 15-17 are more likely to have one than those aged 13-14.

Overall access to laptops and gaming consoles has barely changed, but teenagers from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to have these devices at home. Around 82% of those from homes with incomes above $75,000 have gaming consoles, compared with 70% of those from homes earning under $30,000.

The divide is even wider for desktop and laptop computers, with 94% of the richest households owning them, compared with 79% of lower-earning homes.

Driving digital inclusion

The United Nations says 37% of the world’s population, or 2.9 billion people, have never used the internet.

The World Economic Forum set up the EDISON Alliance to help to close the digital access gap around the world. It brings together around 50 leaders from the public and private sectors to drive change around digital inclusion.

The Alliance’s 1 Billion Lives challenge aims to improve 1 billion lives by providing affordable and accessible digital solutions across health, education and finance by 2025.

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