Social media use and access to digital technology in US Young Adults in 2016

Andrea C. Villanti, Amanda L. Johnson, Vinu Ilakkuvan, Megan A. Jacobs, Amanda L. Graham, Jessica M. Rath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In 2015, 90% of US young adults with Internet access used social media. Digital and social media are highly prevalent modalities through which young adults explore identity formation, and by extension, learn and transmit norms about health and risk behaviors during this developmental life stage. Objective: The purpose of this study was to provide updated estimates of social media use from 2014 to 2016 and correlates of social media use and access to digital technology in data collected from a national sample of US young adults in 2016. Methods: Young adult participants aged 18-24 years in Wave 7 (October 2014, N=1259) and Wave 9 (February 2016, N=989) of the Truth Initiative Young Adult Cohort Study were asked about use frequency for 11 social media sites and access to digital devices, in addition to sociodemographic characteristics. Regular use was defined as using a given social media site at least weekly. Weighted analyses estimated the prevalence of use of each social media site, overlap between regular use of specific sites, and correlates of using a greater number of social media sites regularly. Bivariate analyses identified sociodemographic correlates of access to specific digital devices. Results: In 2014, 89.42% (weighted n, 1126/1298) of young adults reported regular use of at least one social media site. This increased to 97.5% (weighted n, 965/989) of young adults in 2016. Among regular users of social media sites in 2016, the top five sites were Tumblr (85.5%), Vine (84.7%), Snapchat (81.7%), Instagram (80.7%), and LinkedIn (78.9%). Respondents reported regularly using an average of 7.6 social media sites, with 85% using 6 or more sites regularly. Overall, 87% of young adults reported access or use of a smartphone with Internet access, 74% a desktop or laptop computer with Internet access, 41% a tablet with Internet access, 29% a smart TV or video game console with Internet access, 11% a cell phone without Internet access, and 3% none of these. Access to all digital devices with Internet was lower in those reporting a lower subjective financial situation; there were also significant differences in access to specific digital devices with Internet by race, ethnicity, and education. Conclusions: The high mean number of social media sites used regularly and the substantial overlap in use of multiple social media sites reflect the rapidly changing social media environment. Mobile devices are a primary channel for social media, and our study highlights disparities in access to digital technologies with Internet access among US young adults by race/ethnicity, education, and subjective financial status. Findings from this study may guide the development and implementation of future health interventions for young adults delivered via the Internet or social media sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere196
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2017


  • Social media
  • Technology
  • Young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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