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Social Media, Socioeconomic Status, and Democratic Health


[Ottawa – January 4, 2013] In yesterday’s release on social media, we discussed its linkage to democratic health and to socioeconomic status (SES) – i.e., income and educational attainment. We provide two additional pieces of background evidence. The first doesn’t directly link social media and democratic health but it does show the recent trend lines in how Canadians rate the health of democracy. The trend line is not auspicious and shows that a much longer decline in trust in government, which is pervasive to the advanced western world and began in the eighties, is not improving. This decline in trust is actually linked to some of the broader values shifts we will be discussing in our release later today (less deference, less respect for authority and traditional values). The tracking over the past few years is presented in Figure 3-2.

We have gone from a modest plurality rating the health of federal democracy positively in the spring of 2009 to a mere one-third minority today. These highly polarized views are dramatically split across whether one supports the government of the day or not (in a predictable manner). Less predictably, positive trust is restricted largely to senior Canada and is pretty low in all other age groups. University graduates are much less trusting, as are residents of provinces other than Alberta.

The second addendum looks a little more closely at the linkage between social media consumption and socioeconomic status (income and educational attainment) and how well one is faring it the labour market. We have to be cautious in not mixing up the effects of age where social media consumption is most focused in younger Canada who are also more prone to labour market problems these days. While some of these effects are accounted for by age, there is an important additional effect which is associated with social media consumption.

Historically, there has been a strong positive correlation between Internet consumption and SES. The more affluent and educated were far more likely to be frequent Internet users. In the case of social media, this relationship is no longer the case and there may even be a negative correlation between heavy consumption of social media and SES. It is also the case that the most avid daily users of social media are faring more poorly in the labour market. They are less likely to be employed at all and, if they are, they may be in poorer jobs which, for example, are less likely to pay overtime. These relationships are modest but interesting as they seem to be reversing the direction of the ‘digital divide’ of a decade ago which saw a positive linkage between Internet consumption, SES, and labour force outcomes.

So as in the case of both the economy and democracy, we may want to curb our enthusiasm on the uncritical view that social media are purely positive forces. To adapt a famous skeptical note from Robert Solow (referring to computers), you can see social media everywhere, except in the productivity statistics.

Click here for the full report: Addendum to Looking Backward – Part 3 (January 4, 2013)

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