The explosive growth of digital technology and mobile devices has fundamentally altered the way we communicate and engage with each other. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter mediate our online presence and set new rules for digital interactions. But the question remains: has social media made our lives better or worse?
In partnership with Proverbs 31 Ministries and in conjunction with Lysa TerKeurst’s new book Uninvited, Barna conducted a study exclusively among women to examine the habits and impact of their social media use. Though it appears women are experiencing social media in mostly positive ways, reporting that it heightens their sense of connection with friends, their sometimes round-the-clock use results in notable amounts of women experiencing feelings of loneliness, judgment, comparison and distraction.
After using social media, women report mixed feelings
Almost half of all women (49%) say they feel bored either usually or sometimes after using social media. Another one-third (35%) report wanting to change something about their life, and one-quarter (24%) feel like they are missing out on something. 1 in 5 women (21%) also report feeling lonely or jealous (17%) of other people’s lives.
Including women who also experience these feelings rarely in addition to usually or sometimes after spending time on social media, the numbers increase to three out of five women (60%) who say they feel like they want to change something about their lives, and close to half of all women (45%) reporting an experience of loneliness. From a different perspective, more than four in 10 women (42%) either rarely or never feel encouraged after spending time on a social media site.
In total, among all women in the survey, 70 percent report feeling at least one negative emotion (lonely, jealous of other people’s lives, like they want to change something about their life) at some point after spending time on a social media site.
However, women mostly report positive feelings after using social media. More than four in five (81%) say they feel either usually or sometimes connected to friends, a majority feel encouraged (58%) and more than four in 10 (43%) feel rejuvenated or energized.
Overall, when asked very directly about the effect social media has had on their life, most women say it’s had a mostly positive (22%) or somewhat positive (35%) effect on their life. Fewer believe it has had a very negative (3%), or somewhat negative (12%) effect on their life. Close to a third (30%) believe it has had a primarily neutral effect on their life. This means that a majority of women (56%) believe social media has had a positive effect on their life, while 44 percent of women feel as though it has had a neutral or negative effect.
The benefits of connection vs the negative impacts of time wasting and distraction
The most common negative impacts of social media use relate to wasting time (38%) and getting distracted from work or things they need to do (27%). One in seven women (14%) admit judging other people is a negative impact of using social media. In addition, not being “present” to those physically around them (13%) and comparing themselves to other people (12%) are also negative impacts of social media use.
Facebook’s tagline is “Connect with friends and the world around you…” and this is a major theme with social media use. The greatest benefits according to all women surveyed are relational: staying up to date with friends (51%) and feeling connected to friends (41%). Less important are more utilitarian benefits like finding inspiration or ideas (21%), learning new things (21%) and staying current on news and world events (20%).
Most women have a Facebook account, and spend more time on that site than any others (excluding Tumblr)
Facebook boasts a staggering 1.7 billion active monthly users, which is almost a quarter of the world’s population. So it comes as no surprise that most women (81%) in America have a Facebook account and along with Tumblr (though significantly fewer women have accounts on Tumblr), spend more time on that site than any other (more than 30 minutes per visit). The next most popular sites are Pinterest (37%), Twitter (37%), Instagram (26%), and Google Plus (23%). Not as popular are Snapchat (10%), and Tumblr (10%). When it comes to how much time is spent on each site per visit, women spend the most time on Facebook and Tumblr (30+ minutes each), followed by Pinterest at between 10 and 19 minutes per visit. Women spend less than five minutes per visit on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google Plus.
Women are also very active on social media, with close to half of all women (49%) having checked a social media site within the past hour. The last time they checked a social media site was evenly spread between: within the past 5-10 minutes (16%), within the past 30 minutes (17%), and within the past hour (16%). Only about 14 percent of women say they haven’t checked a social media site within the past day.
Women are most likely to check their social media either first thing in the morning, or right before going to bed
Though studies continue to warn us of the dangers of bright screens prior to sleeping, close to half of all women (46%) admit to checking their social media right before going to bed. An even higher percentage (50%) check their social media first thing in the morning. When asked how many days a week they do this, more than two-thirds (67 %) report doing so every day, while nearly three in ten (28%) say they do so three to five times a week—a total of 95 percent of women who do this three or more times a week. This means about half of all women both begin and end most of their days with social media, proving its significant influence on American women’s lives.
In addition to these two popular ways women use social media in a typical week, one-quarter (25%) say they get immediate alerts on their phone or computer when someone interacts with them on social media, 14 percent say they check social media almost every hour they are awake, and 12 percent claim they check a social media site in the middle of the night. When it comes to feelings of anxiety, 9 percent of women claim they get anxious when they haven’t checked a social media site in a while, while 5 percent claim they feel anxious immediately after using social media. Three in 10 women (31%) claim to not use social media in any of the ways described.
The strongest motivations for social media use include curiosity, habit and pleasure
The most common motivation for women to use social media is curiosity (29%), though one-quarter (23%) head to their favorite sites out of habit. About the same amount (23%) are motivated by pleasure or enjoyment, and equal numbers are seeking to either find news (18%) or feel connected (18%).
What the Research Means
“Social media is here to stay,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group and the director of the study. “The big question remains: in what ways is it transforming our lives? And, perhaps an equally important question is, how are we navigating those transformations for better and worse?”
“This study reveals that most women appreciate the positive effects of social media and count it as an overall benefit to their lives” Stone continues. “However, significant minorities report negative emotions that come alongside those benefits. From boredom, to loneliness, to envy, social media usage bears a cost. The findings in this study are self-reported emotions and reactions. When you ask participants in a study to be self-reflective, you have to bear in mind the extent to which respondents are aware—or not aware—of the various factors at play in their lives, many of them subconscious or gradual in their effects.
“The fact that women are using social media at such high frequency and so often, points to the significant impact its having on their lives,” Stone notes. “The key for all of us in the social media age is to heighten our awareness of the impacts such routines have on our daily lives and our emotional states. In other words, the risk is in the unrecognized ways any of our daily activities or ‘liturgies’ shapes us and informs our character. Social media is just the newest activity to pose this danger.
“There are so many benefits to social media,” Stone says. “But, while we embrace those positive benefits, we must also learn to be aware of the ways our own social media habits are impacting us personally through becoming wise and discerning social media users.”
About the Research
This online study included 455 surveys conducted among a representative, random sample of women ages 18 and older in the United States. It was conducted April 29 through May 1, 2015. The sampling error for a sample of this size is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level.
About Barna Group
The Barna Group is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2016.
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