Data Strategy

September 14, 2007

Analyzing Facebook usage by high school demographic

Filed under: People and Data — chucklam @ 3:05 pm

Danah Boyd blogged a few months ago on Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace. She had observed that

Hegemonic American teens (i.e. middle/upper class, college bound teens from upwards mobile or well off families) are all on or switching to Facebook. Marginalized teens, teens from poorer or less educated backgrounds, subculturally-identified teens, and other non-hegemonic teens continue to be drawn to MySpace.

My anecdotal observation is very consistent with hers. The class division also explains why Silicon Valley (a very “hegemonic” class) never understood MySpace. MySpace’s rise had first taken them completely by surprise, when they were only paying attention to Tribe, Orkut, Xanga, etc. (Friendster already had its fame and was imploding at the time.) They grudgingly pay MySpace some respect after its $600M+ acquisition. Now that Facebook is the new hot social network, the Silicon Valley crowd is quick to dismiss MySpace again.

Unfortunately, Danah didn’t have any quantitative data to back up her observations. So I started to gather some data for Facebook and want to share them here. Since it’s only Facebook data, it doesn’t help in comparing Facebook with MySpace. However, the trend on Facebook alone is still interesting, and it’s not inconsistent with Danah’s argument either.

The tool of my data gathering effort is Facebook’s network browsing function:


Let me use International Studies Academy (ISA) in San Francisco, where I went for high school, as the first example. Going to this network’s homepage promptly shows a message that “The content on this Network page is restricted to members of this network only. Only current high school students can join high school networks,” which is fine since the only info I care about is already shown on the homepage.


That is, 52 current students at ISA are on Facebook. It’s a pretty low number. Ok… yeah… my high school is pretty ghetto. It’s not really the Facebook crowd. But let’s be more rigorous in correlating its ghetto-ness with Facebook usage. Looking at ISA’s profile page at, we see that the school has 421 students, giving it a Facebook penetration rate of 52/421=12%. The site also gives my high school a “GreatSchools Rating” of 4… out of a possible 10 😦

I next do the same analysis for the nerdiest high school in San Francisco – Lowell High School. Its FB penetration rate is 65% and its GreatSchools Rating is a perfect 10. Let’s look at a few more public high schools in San Francisco since I’m familiar with the school district.

School FB penetration rate GreatSchools Rating
Lowell 65% 10
Abraham Lincoln 37% 8
School of the Arts 56% 7
George Washington 34% 7
Balboa 35% 6
Wallenberg 22% 6
Phillip Burton 16% 6
Thurgood Marshall 22% 5
Mission 12% 4
ISA 12% 4
Independence High 0% (no FB entry) 4

The correlation between FB usage and high school quality is quite good. Now, it would be nice to correlate Facebook usage with socio-economic class rather than just high school quality. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any stat for average household income for different high schools. Instead let’s assume going to a private high school represents a higher socio-economic class. The FB penetration rates for some of the private high schools in SF are:

School FB penetration rate
Sacred Heart 98%
St. Ignatius 64%
Mercy 47%
Riordan 35%

So being in a private high school or in a highly rated public one is very predictive of one being in Facebook as well. I’ve only presented data for San Francisco, but a similar analysis can be done for high schools across the U.S. (It only takes more time.) I believe the conclusion will be the same.

Again, I haven’t gathered any data on MySpace, so it’s still possible that Danah’s hypothesis is wrong. MySpace usage may in fact increase for students in private/”good” high schools too. My intuition is that Danah is right though, and hopefully I’ll get around to collecting some MySpace data to prove it one way or the other.

Update: I found some MySpace data and have done further analysis. See my post here.

Update 2: Teresa Klein over at did some further statistical analysis and found a correlation coefficient of 0.87 between FaceBook penetration rate and GreatSchools Rating for the San Francisco public schools listed above. Better yet, she repeated the analysis for Seattle high schools and found a correlation coefficient of 0.79 there. The pattern seems to be holding. See her post here.



  1. Here’s some useful bits:

    Size and racial makeup of schools:

    API with clicks to other info:

    But I like your line of analysis!!

    Comment by zephoria — September 14, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  2. This is really interesting…

    Comment by Nancy — September 15, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  3. Is there any way to tell if any of the high school networks also include alumni? That would throw off your numbers. 98% seems really high, even for a private school.

    Comment by Ben Chun — September 18, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  4. The Facebook network page for high schools clearly states that “Only current high school students can join high school networks.” It may be possible that they don’t enforce it completely, but it shouldn’t be too far off. For example, it’s quite possible that, since it’s summer right now, people who graduated this year may still be in their high school network, while incoming freshmen will be allowed to join already. Counting an extra year of recent grads shouldn’t really affect the general conclusion. Although to be completely sure, one can also repeat the data collection in the middle of the school year.

    Another source of noise is the student population estimate. It may be old data, so a recent influx of students to certain schools can throw off the FB penetration rate estimate.

    Comment by chucklam — September 18, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  5. […] few days ago, Chuck Lam of Data Strategy looked at schools in the San Francisco Bay area to see if Facebook penetration correlated at all with the independent ratings of local high schools […]

    Pingback by Web Community Forum » Blog Archive » High School Prestige and Facebook Penetration: Are Wealthy Students More Likely to Use Facebook? — September 18, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

  6. […] Lam is at it again. He’s the guy that did that cool analysis of Facebook penetration and school prestige in Bay Area high schools. (I had a lot of fun […]

    Pingback by Web Community Forum » Blog Archive » MySpace Intensity and in Seattle High Schools — September 25, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  7. […] Having access to interesting data, the way has traffic data from ISPs and toolbars, enables a lot of interesting analysis. However, clever joining of public data can also give interesting results, as my correlation of Facebook usage with high school quality shows. […]

    Pingback by has interesting analyses of Facebook and MySpace « Data Strategy — October 4, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

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