Teens from Low-Income Urban Areas Use Instant Messaging Less and MySpace More

According to a study conducted by Shanyang Zhao in 2007, inner-city teens are more likely to use MySpace and less likely to use instant messaging (IM) than middle-income suburban teens.

For his study, Zhao surveyed a total of 432 students from the 5th, 7th, and 10th grades. Of the 432 students, 193 were from three inner-city schools in low-income areas while the remaining 239 students were from five suburban schools in middle-to-high-income areas.

In the 5th grade, 52.2% of urban teens reported using Myspace, while only 20.3% of suburban teens reported using it. Similarly, urban teens in the 5th grade were more likely to use instant messaging.

In the 7th and 10th grades, though, there was only a slight difference between the use of MySpace by urban and suburban teens, but there was a large difference in the use of instant messaging.

In the 10th grade, for instance, only 43.6% of urban teens reporting using instant messaging. In contrast, 78.6% of suburban teens reported using it.

When the students from all the grades are combined, teens from the inner-city used Myspace more often and instant messaging less often than teens from suburban areas.

64.8% of urban teens used Myspace compared to 51.9% of suburban teens while only 39.7% of urban teens used instant messaging compared to 60.5% of suburban teens.

Although there are a number of factors that could influence the difference between low-income urban teens and middle-to-high-income suburban teens, Zhao speculates that one factor could be access to the internet.

“To effectively engage in IM, one needs to have not only constant access to a networked computer but also a network of “buddies” who are frequently online for one to chat with. Obviously, this requires a lifestyle that is not commonly associated with teenagers from low-income families in the inner-city,” as Zhao explains.

The difference between the use of MySpace and instant messaging may also be influenced by differences in education and digital literacy. As Zhao notes, “because spelling and fast-typing are central to IM use, kids who are weak in these aspects may shun such activities.”


Zhao, S. (2009). Teen adoption of myspace and IM: inner-city versus suburban differences. CyberPsychology & Behavior, Vol 12, No 1.