Who owns and trades bitcoin? Young, relatively well-off men living in big cities.
Most people know what bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are and feel comfortable explaining them to others. But the true bitcoin fans are Millennial men earning more than $75,000 a year in urban areas, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans.
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The survey was conducted by Clovr, a company focused on promoting the mainstream adoption of blockchain technologies -- the digital ledgers that record bitcoin transactions. It is one of the first comprehensive studies of who owns cryptocurrencies.
It may not be a huge surprise to learn that the biggest bitcoin evangelists are young men.
But the results will still be a blow to true cryptocurrency evangelists. That's because, in addition to the limited reach it found, the survey's results also show that the primary reason people invest in cryptocurrencies is the possibility of a huge return -- not because they necessary think digital currencies are the future of money. In other words, people view bitcoin much like internet stocks in the late 1990s or marijuana stocks today: a highly speculative investment.
The bitcoin boom is also about latching on to a hot fad -- investors know others who are doing it and they also have a fear of missing out.
That tends to be a recipe for disaster. Individual investors often chase momentum and get in too late. They're still buying when the so-called smart money (big mutual funds and hedge funds) are selling.
And even though bitcoin prices have come crashing down this year, that doesn't mean that the worst is necessarily over. After all, the price of one bitcoin, trading at about $6,400, is up a staggering 3,000% in the past five years. There is arguably still a lot of room to fall.
Mike Cribari, a co-founder of Clovr, said he was a bit surprised that eagerness to make a fast buck was the top reason for buying bitcoin.
"A lot of people involved in speculative investments -- going for long shots -- don't fall into high income brackets," Cribari said, referring to numerous studies about how casinos, lotteries and other forms of gambling are often considered taxes on the poor.
People won't begin to think of cryptocurrencies as a true replacement for dollars, euros, yen and other government-backed paper currencies for some time. For that to happen, bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies will have to be available in more applications that people use in their daily lives.
"It's hard for people to understand things like private keys and transfers," said Cribari. "People need to be able to use cryptocurrencies more for things like buying their lunch."
We might be getting closer to that point. Starbucks, Microsoft and New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchange have launched Bakkt, a service that will let people convert bitcoins and other crypto assets into dollars.
And Goldman Sachs backs Circle, a startup that lets people invest and trade in cryptocurrencies and also transfer digital payments via an app that works like text messaging.
Bitcoin definitely isn't for everyone. Some high-profile hacking incidents of bitcoin wallets may be scaring some people away from cryptocurrencies, Cribari said.
The breakneck volatility in the crypro market isn't helping either. Bitcoin prices surged 50% in the past 12 months but are down 50% so far this year. The top reason people gave for avoiding crypto investments was that it's too risky.
Cribari said he's hopeful that the wild swings are over. After peaking at nearly $20,000 last December, bitcoin prices have stabilized in a range of between $6,000 and $7,000 over the past few months.
More average investors are getting comfortable with the thought of using bitcoin for everyday purchases and owning bitcoin for the long haul, a separate survey found. More than half of the Millennials and more than a third of the Gen Xers polled said they thought cryptocurrencies would become as widely accepted as cash and credit cards, according to BitcoinIRA.com, which lets people buy bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies for their retirement accounts.
Nearly 30% of the Baby Boomers surveyed indicated that they would consider investing in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies for their retirement.
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