We measured the diversity of people’s social networks in terms of the variety of people they know from different social positions (this is a broad measure of diversity, not specifically a measure diversity in terms of people’s contacts with those from other racial or ethnic groups, or their political perspectives.) Our measure is based on the understanding that people in different social locations in society can provide different types of resources. People in high prestige positions tend to have social resources tied to income, education and authority, while those in lower prestige positions have special skills and can offer unique opportunities. The more different people someone knows, the more likely he or she is to have access to a range of resources. We asked people if they knew anyone in twenty-two different occupations that ranged in occupational prestige. We transformed these items into an additive scale that ranged from 0-100 to ease interpretability.
The average internet user’s network is more diverse than those who do not use the internet.
In 2010, the average American scored 42 on the scale of network diversity. This is identical to the findings reported in Pew Internet’s 2008 report on social isolation . On average, internet users (who score 43 on our diversity scale) have significantly more diverse social networks than non-users (who score 38) (see Appendix B, Table B4, for a detailed table).
Self-selection for social networking site platforms means that LinkedIn users have more diverse social networks than users of other social networking site platforms.
There is variation in the diversity of SNS users overall social networks depending on the platform they use. On average, LinkedIn (47) users have overall networks that are more diverse than those who use MySpace (37), Facebook (39), and Twitter (42) (see Appendix B, Table B5, for a detailed table).
However, the difference in overall network diversity between users of different SNS platforms can be explained by the characteristics of users that are drawn to each site (see Appendix C, Table C3, for the results of our regression analysis). Controlling for demographic factors, we find that internet users score just over 3 points (3.3) higher on the scale of diversity. But we find no relationship between the use SNS and the diversity of people’s overall social networks – use is not associated with a more or less diverse network.
Nonetheless, we do find that those internet users who maintain a blog are likely to have slightly more diverse networks. The average blogger scores more than 3 points (3.4) higher than other internet users.
How strong is the relationship between internet use and the diversity of people overall social networks?
Education is the best predictor of a diverse social network. Each year of education is associated with 1.5 additional points on the diversity scale. From this perspective, internet users have a boost in network diversity that is equivalent to about two years of formal education, bloggers have a boost of about four years.