Digital and Computational Demography

At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Technology Use and Its Effects on Time-Use Patterns, Social Relationships, and Well-Being

Daniela Veronica Negraia, Sophie Lohmann, Emilio Zagheni

Detailed Description

Technology use, including the use of digital media and social networking sites, is now playing an important role in the everyday life of many people. Despite its prevalence, it is not yet clear how this affects our lives. This project examines the implications of technology and digital media use on various aspects of our lives. One subproject focuses on the ways in which the digitalization of life has changed the way we use our time, the type of activities we engage in, the places where we spend our time, and the people with whom we do so. A second subproject examines whether this new way of life has any effects on our health or on how satisfied we are with our lives and relationships.

The Internet, smartphones, and social networking sites have resulted in one of the largest social discontinuities in recent history. We still do not understand the consequences of the digitalization of life for people’s time use and well-being. This project examines how digitalization affects the way individuals spend their time. Initial analyses based on the American Time Use Survey (2003 to 2018) have indicated that Americans spend less time at someone else’s place now than they did in 2003. The decline is moderate when we consider all age groups combined, but dramatic for the 15-19-year olds, for whom we observe a steep and monotonically declining trend starting around 2008. We have also observed that Americans spend more time at home now than they did in 2003, and this change again is strongest for teenagers. We use propensity score matching techniques to test if respondents who report that they spend more time using digital devices such as computers for leisure purposes are also more likely to spend less time visiting others and more time at their own home. As we extend our analysis to other activities and countries, we expect to be able to portray a comparative picture of time-use change in the digital age and to uncover mechanisms that explain differential demographic impacts of digitalization.

The increasing presence of social media in our lives has brought rising concerns that using social media might make us unhappier. The scientific evidence has often been contradictory, and most work examined “social media use” as a single, unitary construct. To provide a more detailed answer, we are analyzing the effect of multi-platform use on well-being. For example, are people who use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat unhappier than those who use only Facebook? And are these in turn unhappier than those who are not on social media at all? We analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a representative sample of US adults, and applied propensity-score adjustment techniques to partially correct for self-selection effects. Overall, we have found no consistent effects on well-being. When we do see negative effects of multi-platform use, for example symptoms of depression, these are limited to middle-aged and older people. They do not apply to young adults.

These findings contribute to the debate on the health-related effects of social media and provide evidence that even multi-platform social media users do not report lower well-being than do less intensive users.

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Lohmann, S.; Zagheni, E.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2020-023. (2020)    
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.