The founders of Facebook proudly announced a few weeks ago that the social networking site now has one billion regular users. A mind-boggling statistic, to be sure. But how, exactly, are people using the site, and what is it providing them?
Recently published research suggests there may be different answers to that question for men and women.
Knox College psychologist Francis McAndrew surveyed 1,026 Facebook users ranging from age 18 to 79 (the mean age was 30) and living in 54 different nations (although the largest group by far was from the U.S.).
The social networkers answered a series of questions, including how much time they spend on the site, how many “friends” they have, and how often they engage in various Facebook activities, such as looking at others’ photo albums.
"Overall, females engaged in far more Facebook activity than did males," McAnders and co-author Hye Sun Jeong report in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. "They spent more time on Facebook and had more Facebook friends.
“Consistent with previous research on gossip-seeking behavior, females were more interested than males in the relationship status of others, and they were more interested in keeping tabs on the activity of other women than men were in keeping tabs on the activity of other men,” the researchers write.
If women seem more interested in learning who is seeing who, men appear to be more likely to use Facebook “as a mate-seeking tool.”
“Men who were in a committed relationship spent less time looking at the pages of women and less time posting, looking at, or commenting on photographs,” the researchers report. In contrast, “whether or not a woman was involved in a committed relationship seemed irrelevant to her Facebook use.”
Moving from gender to age, the researchers report that older people spent less time on Facebook, had fewer Facebook friends, and generally did less of everything on Facebook than did younger people. “During the time that older people are on Facebook, however, they are more likely to be interacting with individuals directly; more likely to be looking at their own page; and more likely to be looking at family pictures than their younger counterparts,” they add.
McAndrew admits he is “scratching the surface of what promises to be a very rich domain of research.” This early study suggests that our technology has changed, but human nature, not so much.