Who buys NFTs: Is ‘crypto’s bro club’ becoming more diverse?
The NFT-buying demographic is heavy with young males, but is that about to change?
It is well documented that the cryptocurrency industry has a diversity problem. More specifically, it has a “bro” problem. The “crypto bro” has become a stereotype as a typical cryptocurrency investor – and what’s more, one that’s supported by the data.
That is not just true for cryptocurrencies, either. Last year, the NFT (non-fungible token) world quickly changed from an emerging industry into a flourishing landscape for artists. Despite becoming part of mainstream internet culture, however, its demographic is showing similar trends to the cryptocurrency world.
Maliha Abidi is the Pakistani-American artist behind the NFT project WomenRise, a collection of vibrant and bold portraits encouraging greater equality in the NFT space.
Almost every woman that Abidi has met at NFT events has noticed that gender representation is far from equal.
She said: “We know it's so difficult to get into the space, so when we have our foot in the door, we're like ‘OK, now we're going to hold the door open so others like us can get in’.”
There are signs, however, that the landscape is beginning to change, and Abidi is hopeful for a more diverse future for NFT buyers.
Who buys NFTs and why?
The data paints a very clear picture of the average NFT buyer as a higher-income man in his 20s or 30s wanting to make a profit. Separate research from Civic Science and Finder discovered that young millennials were the age group most interested in NFTs, with baby boomers (those currently aged over 60) the least involved generation.
Josh Sandhu, founder of the NFT advisory service Quantus Gallery, has spotted similar trends. He said the main demographic of NFT buyers is younger investors, although – unusually – he found a quarter of his clients are over the age of 60.
The Civic Science survey found that the average NFT buyer was someone with an income above $150,000. It revealed that people who are NFT buyers are purchasing the tokens in the hope of making a short-term profit.
Zhantuar is a photographer from Kazakhstan who has recently become an NFT buyer. He said: “It certainly needs some spare cash that you are not afraid to lose”. He also noticed the NFT market’s male-heavy community, saying that discussions on Discord are “surrounded by males as a major dominance of gender”.
A recent Statista report also found there are fewer women who actually buy NFTs compared to men. The report found this gender gap was particularly vast for people in their 30s, with double the number of men owning NFTs.
Sandhu came to similar conclusions with his own clients. “It’s heavily weighted towards men, which is another interesting shift when we compare this market to the more traditional art market where we see something closer to an equal split,” he said.
This gender gap is even written into the prices of NFTs. Bloomberg looked at the price of CryptoPunks, NFT collectible avatars whose price is driven largely by demand. It found male CryptoPunks traded hands for larger sums, even though the female avatars were rarer.
Barriers to entry
Abidi says this started early on because the majority of people entering the Web3 space are already established in Web 2.0, whether as social media users or as tech experts.
She said: “Education plays a huge role in that. So, let’s say if girls are not being educated for whatever reason, they won’t be able to educate themselves and liberate themselves about the opportunities that are out there.”
Abidi points to Pakistan, where the average education for a girl lasts two years. A lack of digital literacy among women is a worldwide trend: the United Nations’ technology agency found that less than half of women worldwide use the internet.
Abidi has seen the impact of this after touring round US and UK NFT events. “I think there is an element of feeling intimidated, also, because I didn't see myself in this space. I never saw that many brown women or hijab women wearing a headscarf,” she said.
Dave Manrique is a gender-fluid NFT buyer who works in technology education. They have noticed that both the tech and NFT world are “very straight-white-male dominated”. Despite finding the NFT community welcoming, Manrique still felt like “the odd one out”.
Manrique has experienced their own difficulty in getting into the technology space. At 16 they were kicked out of their parents’ house and were rejected from getting into scholarships. Now they are establishing their own NFT project to support others wanting to get into the space.
A US-centric industry
Another barrier to entering the NFT world is its United States focus. Many investors have found the NFT space revolves around the US. Despite living in the UK, Abidi has been working on PST (Pacific Standard Time) or ESD (Eastern Standard Time) hours – the hours kept in Los Angeles and New York, respectively.
Being based in Kazakhstan, Zhantuar has also faced this struggle, especially as the country was hit by an internet blackout. He said: “I literally felt I was not represented in the NFT space as I simply had no access to the internet.”
He mentions language as another significant barrier, because of the heavy use of English in the industry. “Once you indicate who mostly has got access to internet, language access, some cash, and a mentality of being active, that does not leave a diverse space.”
A more equal future?
More diverse creators are, however, starting to carve out their own spaces in the NFT world.
Women of Crypto Art was formed in 2020 by a group of NFT artists wanting to build a community. Since then, a museum has been set up in the Cryptovoxels metaverse showcasing a collection of the best in women’s crypto art. Other projects, such as World of Women and Women Unite, have also been established on OpenSea, the American NFT marketplace.
The Pandimensional Trading Company is an NFT project designed and founded by PJ Cooper, whose aim was to create a diverse collection “by representing multiple faiths, cultures, ethnicities, genders, and sexual identities”.
The collection of vibrant avatars has 300 individual traits. Cooper said: “We decided to enable the mixing of all our traits to create gender-fluid, transgender and non-binary avatars. We've had a great response from collectors who feel like they're being represented because of this.”
Cooper, Abidi, and Sandhu think the NFT space will become a lot more diverse. This is even visible now when looking at Abidi’s project. The majority of WomenRise’s Instagram followers are women, and 40% of the community had never bought an NFT before.
She said: “We work very hard on the educational side of it: educating people who are non-NFT folks to make sure that we are bringing them into the NFT space.”
In general, Abidi still thinks it is mainly “crypto bros” buying NFTs. But, she said, “I do feel that slowly we are shifting the space and we're seeing a lot more power of buying NFTs in the hands of women, and that's a collective effort.”
They might be. There are many opportunities for investors to make profit by buying and selling NFTs: some CryptoPunks, for instance, have been resold for millions of dollars.
However, there are also examples of pieces that have fallen in value, and multiple examples of scams in the industry. Remember, you should always do your research before buying an NFT.
Investors can purchase NFTs on marketplaces such as Rarible or OpenSea. The item is then sent to the investor’s crypto wallet.
It depends. Civic Society found that most people purchase NFTs to make a quick profit, but not all NFTs turn out to be profitable. Other people purchase NFTs as a form of collector’s item or memorabilia.
Either way, investors should always do their own research, and never invest any money they cannot afford to lose.