Social media and life satisfaction: Understanding the impact of digital pressure on young people


A new study conducted by Anja Stevic at the University of Vienna's Department of Communication examines the pressure to produce content and be available on social media and its effects on the life satisfaction of emerging adults.

Article by Annika Arndt (✉

This study examines the links between the different forms of social media use and the perceived digital pressure from peers to post content and be present on social media. In particular, it focuses on the influence of perceived expectations. In this context, communication scientist Anja Stevic analyzes the differences between active private and public use as well as passive use of social media. Despite possible pressure from the peer group, the study shows that this does not have a direct influence young people’s life satisfaction over time.

For young people, social media plays a central role in everyday communication, information procurement, and the feeling of always having to be up to date and informed. This study examines the reciprocal relationships between different types of social media use and the digital pressure perceived by young people to be constantly available and post content. One important aspect is the perceived expectations of (their own) friends. The focus is on the over time relationships between active private and public as well as passive social media use, the perceived digital pressure and – ultimately – life satisfaction.

The influence of peers

In her study, Anja Stevic analyzes the influence of peers on social media use by examining the pressure to be available – the perceived expectation from peers to be constantly present on social media – as well as the pressure to produce, which is the perceived expectation from peers to share content. The perceived social expectations to behave in a certain way reflect the perceived pressure that young people feel to act under the influence of their friends on social media. Anja Stevic justifies the research interest with the assumption that "[...] for young social media users, the feeling of pressure to post news could lead them to share more publicly over time."

The researcher differentiated between the three types of social media use. Firstly, she defined the private active use of social media, which includes interpersonal interaction with friends and family. Secondly, she addressed the public, active use of social media, which includes broadcasting, publishing and sharing content for a wider audience. Finally, she addressed the passive use of social media, which only involves observing and monitoring the profiles of other users.

Insight into the outcomes of social media use on adolescents and young adults

For her study, Anja Stevic collected data from 415 adolescents and young adults in Germany as part of a two-wave panel survey conducted four months apart. The results show that active public use positively predicts production pressure. This relationship is also reciprocal: Production pressure also increases active public use. This creates a "vicious circle", as the findings point to a self-reinforcing spiral between the perceived digital pressure to perform and the fulfilment of friends' expectations in social networks. This pressure can also lead to less active private use – in the form of fewer private interactions. At the same time, the pressure to be available also leads to greater social media use overall.

Passive use, i.e., simply browsing social media and monitoring other users, does not generate pressure and is not associated with changes in the use of social media. Surprisingly, neither the pressure to be reachable nor the pressure to create content has a direct influence on life satisfaction. Anja Stevic summarizes her study results as follows: "If peers' expectations to always be online are high, youth will be chatting more through private interactions. But, on the bright side, experiencing social media pressure doesn’t seem to impact young people’s life satisfaction long-term."

Publication details

Stevic, A. (2024). Under pressure? Longitudinal relationships between different types of social media use, digital pressure, and life satisfaction. Social Media + Society. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/20563051241239282

Anja Stevic is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Communcation at the University of Vienna since 2021.