Population Dynamics and Sustainable Well-Being

At a Glance Projects Publications Team

Research Area

Digitalization and Inequalities

The digital revolution has dramatically influenced people’s lives and the ways in which information, communication, and vital services are accessed. It has deeply affected how individuals seek information, communicate, and interact with their communities, and how they access media and key services and goods (e.g., linked to financial or health services). Looking at these different channels, digital technologies have been hypothesized to affect longer-term demographic processes within the life course linked to health, partnership formation, fertility, and migration. Projects in this research area focus on the impacts of digital technologies on daily life and on the connections between access and use of digital technologies on the one side and broader demographic processes on the other.

Digital technologies offer their users opportunities to connect with family, friends, and acquaintances irrespective of the physical distance between them. They also help reduce the costs of information search and democratize access to information, thus helping individuals make informed decisions about their health, which again serves as a pathway toward improving population-level health outcomes. Research on high-income countries has shown that women, younger people, and highly educated groups are more likely to use the internet to access health-related information. In poorer countries or areas, where information resources may otherwise be scarce or harder to access, digital technologies may have comparatively larger impacts on improving health-related knowledge. Some of our studies in this research area analyze the differential use of digital technologies and social network sites by various demographic groups around the world. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of demographic variations in access to digital technologies, including gender disparities, and their implications for people’s well-being and societies as a whole.

Growing debate has centered on whether, how, and under which circumstances digital media use helps or harms our mental health. The literature on the impact of social media use has produced conflicting results, however. Some of our studies thus focus 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. We document the increase in solitary leisure time in the USA over the past decades and assess the extent to which digitalization has affected the way in which individuals spend their time. Other studies of ours examine whether the increasing presence of social media in our lives has reduced our happiness. Having considered self-selection, our current research suggests that on average we do not feel slightly worse than usual simply because we use social media. Rather, we may turn more to social media because we feel worse than usual.

A third group of studies leverages the broad diffusion of internet and social media platforms to test the feasibility of generating timely and accurate demographic indicators, such as fertility rates in low- and middle-income countries.

Projects of this Research Area

Estimating Fertility Indicators by Using Digital Trace Data and Targeted Online Surveys Project details
Demographic Differential Uses of Social Media, Social Network Sites, and Crowdsourced Platforms Project details
Technology Use and Its Effects on Time-Use Patterns, Social Relationships, and Well-Being Project details
Trends and Disparities in Patterns of Scientific Knowledge Production Project details
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.