Bitcoin is gaining popularity and the numbers of BTC users are constantly increasing too. But how can we know how many Bitcoin enthusiasts are there, exactly? Given that it is a decentralized system, the Bitcoin network doesn’t offer a lot of information about its users.
We can think of two ways of estimating the size of Bitcoin’s audience: we can base our calculations either on the number of wallets or transactions. Regarding the Bitcoin wallets, the number of them has doubled from five up to 10 mln during 2014-2015. This April, a number of more than 12 mln wallets has been reported.
But it’s not uncommon for one person to have a few wallets at once. As for the increasing number of transactions, it could be inflated by both newcomers and older users sending Bitcoins more often.
The main question remains: who are the people that use the cryptocurrency? Are they male or female, and what is their average age and occupation? Who are the most famous proponents of Bitcoin?
In 2014, research has been carried out by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A questionnaire has been posted on websites frequented by Bitcoin users, like Bitcoin.org, Reddit and Twitter.
Two researchers, a visiting assistant professor of sociology Jeremiah Bohr and an assistant professor of library and information science Masooda Bashir, analyzed almost 1,200 responses to this survey.
The results weren’t as great as they expected. The average age of respondents was about 33 years old and nearly half of them came from the US. Finally, the researchers gave up and stated:
“Surveying a random sample of the Bitcoin community is nearly impossible as Bitcoin offers a lot of privacy to its user, the currency is not regulated by any centralized agency, and adoption of Bitcoin is still not widespread.”
During their research, Bohr and Bashir noted that 25-year-olds have about half as many Bitcoins as 35-year-olds, whereas 35-year-olds have about half as many Bitcoins as 45-year-olds.
That ruins the common image of Bitcoin as a technology for young tech innovators and paints a more conservative picture.
Here is another set of numbers, that’s been obtained by posting a simple age question on Bitcointalk.
Some person with the username groll commented in the thread:
“It’s hard to determine the average age of Bitcoin users since we cannot know who are the users and we don’t have any statistical data about them. My Friends in Facebook ranges from 13 to 40 years old and Bitcoin users for more than a year. Some adolescent are much well-versed in Bitcoin investment and earning Bitcoins than me. Bitcoin has no age limit.”
Of course, it’s clear that teenagers are more receptive to new technologies and easily get along with them. Yet, the experience and knowledge that only age can give seems to have helped some users too.
Male or female?
There is little argument about the gender demographics of BTC users: the vast majority of them are male. But as the popularity of Bitcoin grows, the demographics change. Even though men still prevail, the number of women involved is also increasing.
Two years ago, Fortune published a list of 10 women who are doing great in Bitcoin: some of them have even founded their own companies or are working as CEOs. Yet, the Bitcoin system is still sometimes criticized for lacking female presence as women comprise about 1.76 percent of the entire user base.
And whenever a Bitcoin conference takes place, the speakers and guests are mostly men.
The same source continues with providing a rather outrageous example:
“If you are a woman involved with Bitcoin, you are invariably going to get treated like an outsider. As Victoria Turk says, it seems that the only Bitcoin community that particularly welcomes female participation is the NSFW subreddit r/GirlsGoneBitcoin, which is basically a site where women get paid in cryptocurrency to pose nude.”
What do Bitcoiners use the cryptocurrency for?
Due to the anonymous and untraceable nature of Bitcoin, some choose to use it to buy drugs. Sites like Silk Road which help almost everyone to buy restricted substances via BTC. The peak of activities of these “Darknet” businesses took place around 2011-2012, and it has subsided a little since then.
The Silk Road website was shut down in October 2013 by the FBI and its owner Ross William Ulbricht was arrested. A month later, on Nov. 6, 2013, Silk Road 2.0 came online but didn’t survive for long: the alleged operator was arrested within a year.
There is another, brighter side to the Bitcoin community: some users prefer to give their BTC to charity. For example, one charity organization has recently managed to gather $7 mln worth of Bitcoin donations.
It’s better to see once
Another interesting case is an infographic that’s based on surveys from 2013-2015:
Although a bit old by now, it’s reasonable to assume that most of that data is still representative of the current situation.
Faceless statistics are one thing, but to get a full understanding of Bitcoin’s user base, we should take a more personal look at the most famous Bitcoiners.
First of all, the one and only Satoshi Nakamoto - the very inventor of Bitcoin. It’s believed that he owns a great number of e-wallets and controls more than five percent of all BTC. Back in 2013, a Bitcoin developer Sergio Lerner stated that Satoshi may own around one mln BTC. Converting it back into USD, we get around $2.7 bln as of August 2017.
Two investors, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, are known for losing the control over the idea of Facebook to Mark Zuckerberg. But soon they returned as Bitcoin aficionados. The twins have already created a Bitcoin ETF and soon they might become two wealthy cryptocurrency geeks: their investment of $11 mln worth of BTC now has grown 20 times larger over the years.
Another long-time player is a venture capitalist Barry Silbert. When everybody was making fun of cryptocurrency, he has had enough courage to bet on it, big time. One of those bets brought him 48,000 Bitcoins in a second auction held by the US Marshals Service in 2014.
The next year, Silbert was focused on building a financial product, rival to the Winklevoss ETF. And now Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group (DCG) is planning to launch a regulated investment vehicle based on ZCash. This innovative idea is aimed at introducing the anonymous cryptocurrency to the public market.
The future of Bitcoin
The first investor in Snapchat Jeremy Liew and the CEO and co-founder of Blockchain.info Peter Smith have made some predictions. Bitcoin’s user base has grown from 120,000 users in 2013 to 6.5 mln users in four years. 2017 is not over yet and the number might soar even higher.
One of the most optimistic predictions is that by 2030, Bitcoin’s price will reach $500,000 and, judging by past levels of growth, the number of users can increase to 400 mln.