Just 12% of Americans — or 40 million individuals — used cryptocurrency last year, largely as an investment and not as a currency, according to a new survey from the Federal Reserve.
Eleven percent said they bought or held cryptocurrency for investment purposes, while 2% used crypto to buy something or make a payment. Another 1% used it to send money to friends or family, according to the annual survey that polled over 11,000 U.S. adults between October and November 2021 about their economic well-being over the past year. Respondents could choose more than one answer.
The results suggest the asset class was primarily seen as an investment vehicle in the U.S. by mostly high-income adults, a theme that runs contrary to how some proponents preach crypto as a payment vehicle that helps promote financial inclusion.
The interest in investing makes sense, since during the survey period, the global market capitalization of cryptocurrency grew by more than 86% from $335 billion to $2.54 trillion, according to CoinmarketCap.
Among the self-identified crypto investors only, 46% made $100,000 or more, while 29% earned under $50,000. Nearly all (99%) had a bank account and 89% of non-retired investors had some retirement savings.
By contrast, the 2% who used the asset class for financial transactions were more likely to be unbanked, lower income, and without a credit card. Nearly 6 in 10 earned less than $50,000, and 13% lacked a bank account — compared with 6% of adults who did not use cryptocurrency. More than a quarter of transactional crypto users lacked a credit card, versus 17% of non-crypto users.
The Fed’s figures fall below the level of U.S. crypto adoption that other surveys have found, such as one from crypto exchange Gemini released at the beginning of April. That survey, conducted from late November to February after the crypto market peaked at the beginning of November, found that 20% U.S. adults reported they owned cryptocurrency.
However, data from both surveys as well as the industry’s largest geography study from blockchain analytics firm, Chainalysis, suggests that cryptocurrency isn’t primarily used for payments in developed countries.
In that study, the U.S. ranked as eighth in overall crypto adoption, coming in third for total crypto activity and fourth in activity among non-professional, individual crypto users. But the U.S. ranked 109th for peer-to-peer exchange volume.
David Hollerith covers cryptocurrency for Yahoo Finance. Follow him @dshollers.