75 Percent of Homeless Youth Use Social Media, Study Indicates

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September 3, 2012; Source: Wired

Researchers from the University of Alabama and the National Science Foundation have recently released a study in Computers in Human Behavior titled “The homeless use Facebook?! Similarities of social network use between college students and homeless young adults.” The study observes social media usage among young adults and finds that 75 percent of the homeless youth surveyed are actively using social media. The study included 237 college students and 65 homeless young adults (average age: 19) in shelters. The college students reported a higher regular use of social networking (with 90 percent saying they use social media regularly), but overall, the usage between the two groups was extraordinarily similar.

The lead author of the report, the National Science Foundation’s Rosanna E. Guadagno, says, “Since it is clear that the proportions of undergraduates and homeless young adults accessing social networking sites are similar, we assert that the term ‘digital divide’ is not descriptive of the young adult population.”

The article in Wired points to recent research by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics which indicates that the digital divide is, to some extent, affected by age. According to Wired’s paraphrasing of the U.K. research, “as of the first quarter of 2012 the internet participation rate remains at least around 90 percent up until the 45-55 age group, but then drops sharply, with only 27.4 percent of those over 75 having ever gone online. Studies such as the University of Alabama one seem to indicate that age remains the most significant signifier that someone may not have the access to the web that they could.”

Does this study seem to reflect the experience of people working with homeless youth elsewhere? And if so, how have you adapted your programs to make use of social media? –Aine Creedon

  • Matthew Hersh

    The term “digital divide” does not begin and end with social media use. It’s about having 24-7 access to a computer, developing fundamental computer skills, and being given a chance to compete on an equal playing field in the workforce and in school.

  • Kiteman

    I would question the methodology of this study – one very small sample versus one ludicrously tiny (and unrepresentative) sample does not make a valid comparison, especially when the study was limited to teenagers in shelters.

    How many genuinely homeless people can afford regular access to the internet, when they can’t afford to eat?