Population Dynamics and Sustainable Well-Being

At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Demographic Differential Uses of Social Media, Social Network Sites, and Crowdsourced Platforms

Carolina Coimbra Vieira, Robert Gordon Rinderknecht, Ole Hexel, Emilio Zagheni, Beatriz Sofía Gil Clavel (Delft University of Technology, Netherlands); in Collaboration with Ingmar Weber (Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany), Kari Haranko (Aalto University, Finland), Kiran Garimella (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Cambridge, USA), Filipe N. Ribeiro (Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil), Fabrício Benevenuto (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil), Qian Wenqing (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA), Marisa Vasconcelos (IBM Research – Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Detailed Description

Social Network Sites (SNS) are an important part of many people’s lives. SNS offer their users the opportunities to connect with family, friends, acquaintances, or people with whom they share similar ideas, irrespective of the physical distance between them. SNS are therefore assuming accrued importance when studying the connections between technologies and social interactions, practices, and structures. Existing studies so far have focused on the social relevance of SNS, but little is known about the demographic differentials of SNS use and what these say about differential engagement with Information and Communication Technologies within populations.

In this project, we analyze the differential use of social media and SNS by various demographic groups around the world. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of demographic variations in access to digital technologies and their implications for society. Our data about online use come from online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Weibo. We use representative sources of information to complement and validate findings from passively collected data from SNS.

In a first study, we contextualized recent findings on digital gender gaps and extended their scope by discussing the role of age and looking at the broader patterns of demographic differentials in Facebook adoption around the world. We have shown that gender gaps in the use of SNS, and Facebook in particular, cannot be fully understood without accounting for key demographic variables, such as age. We have also revealed that there are important qualitative differences in how the platform is used. This is in addition to differences in the prevalence of Facebook use. The network size of close friends typically decreases with age, but women tend to maintain larger networks than men and generally use Facebook more often when they are away from their hometown. These findings are a first step toward gaining a more comprehensive understanding of demographic differentials in access to digital technologies and their implications for our societies.

In another study, we have shown how SNS data can be validated against official data in order to study gender trends in employment in the United States. We analyzed anonymous aggregate statistics extracted from LinkedIn's advertising platform and validated them against data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The analysis suggests that the gender gap in employment is fairly similar across locations but varies strongly across industries and, less so, across skills. Male representation seems to increase with age, possibly indicating generational shifts. Compositional changes in the industry structure (and related skills) of US cities may be the driver of differentials in gender gaps in employment.

As we extend our project beyond SNS platforms, we provide similar analyses of crowdsourced labor platforms (i.e., Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Prolific), focusing on how the time-use patterns of respondents available on these platforms differ from representative US data just before widespread social distancing in the winter of 2020. Initial analyses have shown that respondents recruited from these crowdsourced platforms are more socially isolated and homebound than the broader US population.

Research Keywords:

Data and Surveys

Region keywords:



Qian, W.; Hexel, O.; Zagheni, E.; Kashyap, R.; Weber, I. G.:
In: Workshop Proceedings of the Seventeenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM-23): Limassol, Cyprus, June 5th - 8th, 2023, 1–6. Palo Alto, CA: AAAI Press. (2023)    
Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Zagheni, E.; Bordone, V.:
Population Research and Policy Review 41:3, 1111–1135. (2022)    
Grow, A.; Perrotta, D.; Del Fava, E.; Cimentada, J.; Rampazzo, F.; Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Zagheni, E.; Flores, R. D.; Ventura, I.; Weber, I. G.:
Journal of the Royal Statistical Society/A 185:S2, S343–S363. (2022)    
Coimbra Vieira, C.; Vasconcelos, M.:
In: WWW'21: companion proceedings of the Web Conference 2021, 145–153. New York: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). (2021)    
Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Zagheni, E.; Bordone, V.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2020-035. (2020)    
Ribeiro, F. N.; Benevenuto, F.; Zagheni, E.:
In: WebSci '20: 12th ACM Conference on Web Science, Southampton, UK, 6-10 July 2020, 325–334. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. (2020)    
Alburez-Gutierrez, D.; Aref, S.; Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Grow, A.; Negraia, D. V.; Zagheni, E.:
In: Smart statistics for smart applications : book of short papers SIS2019, 23–30. Pearson. (2019)    
Alburez-Gutierrez, D.; Chandrasekharan, E.; Chunara, R.; Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Hannak, A.; Interdonato, R.; Joseph, K.; Kalimeri, K.; Malik, M. M.; Mayer, K.; Mejova, Y.; Paolotti, D.; Zagheni, E.:
AI Magazine 40:4, 78–82. (2019)
Gil-Clavel, B. S.; Zagheni, E.:
In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2019): 11-14 June 2019, Munich, Germany, 647–650. Palo Alto, CA: AAAI Press. (2019)    
Cesare, N.; Lee, H.; McCormick, T.; Spiro, E.; Zagheni, E.:
Demography 55:5, 1979–1999. (2018)
Haranko, K.; Zagheni, E.; Garimella, K.; Weber, I. G.:
In: Proceedings of the Twelfth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2018): 25-28 June 2018, Stanford, California, 604–607. Palo Alto, CA: AAAI Press. (2018)    
Weber, I. G.; Kashyap, R.; Zagheni, E.:
ITU Journal: ICT Discoveries 1:2, 1–9. (2018)    
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.