Snapchat and Instagram are undeniably favorite communication channels among Generation Z. According to EAB‘s 2019 survey of student communication preferences, Instagram’s daily usage has increased 10% to a total of just over 80%, while Snapchat stayed constant with about 76% of students reporting daily usage since 2017. In that same time frame, Facebook have seen its usage fall 17%.
While it’s true that Facebook’s popularity among teens has generally diminished with the rise of newer platforms, teens aren’t fleeing Facebook altogether. In fact, Facebook use among low-income teens remains high, reports Hanna Kozlowska for Quartz.
According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 70% of teens with a household income of less than $30K report using Facebook regularly. But just 36% of teens with a household income of more than $75K report using the site at similar rates.
Kozlowska speculates that low-income teens are using the platform at higher rates “to keep in touch with their networks, to find support, and to get ahead,” and as a means of “filling gaps when other resources are unavailable.”
Researchers suggest low-income teens use Facebook as a means to connect with family or other adults who represent a crucial component of their social circles. “If young people are experiencing racism, for instance, or if they are experiencing some kind of discrimination related to poverty, that is something that is shared among family members and community members,” argues Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor in the media, film, and journalism department at the University of Denver.
Low-income teens also use Facebook to keep in touch with distant relatives or adults—like former foster parents—who are no longer in their day-to-day lives. As Emily Bauer, EAB’s vice president of program marketing, explains, “We sometimes forget the ‘social’ in social media is more than tweets about TV shows and pictures of fun times on Instagram. Being ‘social’ is defined as relating to and being a part of institutions and cultural systems.”
So it’s no surprise that many low-income teens have clear goals in mind when using Facebook, and those goals often include connecting with organizations and resources.
For example, one teen says she uses Facebook exclusively for networking, and another says he uses the platform to promote his budding business. Others say they use Facebook for homework help or to get individualized attention or support from adults in their lives, like youth group leaders or coaches.
“If you think of it in a social capital perspective, high-income kids have access to a lot of resources and social capital that low-income kids often have to work differently to gain access to,” explains Jacqueline Vickery, an associate professor in the media arts department at the University of North Texas.
Because Facebook remains popular among low-income teens, the site is still a valuable platform for colleges hoping to attract prospective low-income students, Bauer explains. According to a 2017 EAB survey, underrepresented students are more likely rely on platforms like Facebook for information about colleges. And EAB research suggests that social media helps fill information gaps for underrepresented or low-income students who may not have first-hand knowledge of how to choose and attend college, says Bauer (Kozlowska, Quartz, 8/15/2018; Anderson/Jiang, Pew Research Center, 5/31/2018).