Gen Xers as likely to get social online as face-to-face

U. MICHIGAN (US) — Young adults in Generation X are as likely to connect with friends, family, and co-workers online as they are in person, but not more so, a new study shows.

In a typical month, adults in their late 30s report that they engaged in about 75 face-to-face contacts or conversations, compared to about 74 electronic contracts through personal emails or social media.

“Given the speed of emerging technologies, it is likely that electronic contacts will continue to grow in the years ahead, eventually exceeding face-to-face interactions,” says Jon D. Miller, author of the latest issue of The Generation X Report.


“But the young adults in Generation X are currently maintaining a healthy balance between personal and electronic social networking.”

Miller directs the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. The current report includes responses from 3,027 Gen-Xers interviewed in 2011.

According to Miller, studying Gen-X social networks is important because these networks, sometimes referred to as “social capital,” are a vital component of the quality of life.

“The size and composition of personal networks is both a reflection of cumulative advantage over years and decades and an indicator of the resources available to get ahead and deal with problems or challenges that may arise,” he says.

In addition to finding a rough parity between personal and electronic networks, the study also shows young adults who completed bachelor’s or advanced degrees tended to have larger social networks. Survey participants who did not complete high school relied more heavily on traditional personal networks and less on electronic networking.

Somewhat surprisingly, males reported more personal contacts than females in the course of a typical month—86 compared to 65. This difference reflects the larger number of hours men reported spending at work, Miller says. Young women, on the other hand, were slightly more likely to visit family and friends, attend meetings in the community, and do volunteer work.

Overall, in the course of a typical month, participants reported visiting with family and friends eight times, getting together or having personal conversations with co-workers nearly 60 times, attending meetings of social or community groups four times, and engaging in about three hours of volunteer work.

Looking at electronic networking, females were slightly more active, initiating 76 contacts compared to 71 for males. Overall, in the course of a typical month, participants reported sending 39 nonwork emails, using Facebook nearly 23 times, using Twitter four times, Skyping once, and sending digital pictures seven times.

“This is the first generation of Americans to reach adulthood at the beginning of the electronic era,” Miller says. “So it’s understandable that they should show a substantial mix of traditional and electronic networking as they build and maintain the social capital that will help to carry them through their lives.”

The National Science Foundation funded the work.

Source: University of Michigan