WhatsApp penetration has grown to nearly one-half, according to the latest data from YouGov and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Across 38 countries this year, 47.9% of internet users said they had used the platform in the past week. This is up 4.2 percentage points (pp) from last year.

Individuals in high-income households have seen WhatsApp usage grow rapidly since 2017, reaching 55.0% of internet users this year. This is compared to 43.3% of low-income individuals.

WhatsApp is significantly more popular with female internet users, 49.8% compared to 45.8% for males this year. This difference is particularly large among younger audiences – penetration is 8.7pp higher for females aged 18-20. This gap closes as age rises, with males aged 65 and over marginally more likely to use the platform.

By country, penetration varies wildly. Over four-fifths use WhatsApp in South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Malaysia. In contrast, this drops to less than 10% in the United States, Denmark, Hungary, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

As the Facebook platform becomes saturated, WhatsApp will become increasingly monetised to drive company growth. The platform presents a significant issue for brands around engagement and tracking, given its 'dark social' nature. Better analytics and small-scale influencer marketing are two possible solutions for advertisers.