Staking is a decentralized financial service that is still relatively new. People are discovering the magic of compound interest and we dare say that within 10 years staking will be a form of savings. The coins of most blockchain networks are digitally scarce and there is no way to increase their supply. As demand grows, their market value increases.
There are only 2 decentralized PoS blockchains in the top 10 that enable staking. Cardano brought this capability in mid-2020. Ethereum switched from PoW to PoS in September 2022. Staking is the most secure way to profit from held coins as it is implemented directly in the projects' protocols. This is especially true for Cardano which has liquid staking. In the case of Ethereum, third parties can be used through smart contracts so stakers must rely on the quality of code from these staking providers. In this article, we will discuss how many people are staking ADA and ETH. We will not get to exact numbers as the data is obscured by centralized exchanges. Still, it is possible to get at least partial results. We will briefly look at the results in the context of decentralization.
There may be roughly 2x the number of ETH stakers than ADA stakers. It can be tens of millions of stakers. It is likely that in a non-custodial way, more people are staking ADA than ETH. In terms of decentralization, Cardano is 5-50x better off than Ethereum.
The number of ADA stakers
There are currently staked 23B ADA (80% of ADA in circulation).
Cardano has liquid staking and no fixed minimum of coins that the user must have in order to participate. ADA holders can delegate any amount of coins to the chosen pool directly from their own wallet. There is no need to use third parties in the Cardano ecosystem.
Third parties are used nonetheless. These are mainly centralized exchanges. Furthermore, they can be DeFi protocols that offer rewards for providing liquidity and at the same time from staking. The total reward may thus be higher.
Binance operates several dozen pools with roughly half the saturation and low pledge. Binance's staking share is 4.1% with 950M ADA coins. The number of stakers per pool is 2. Binance may have roughly 100 stakers in the stats. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how many people on the exchange hold ADA coins and in what quantity. Let's add that Binance had a roughly 10% share until recently, and people on this exchange very likely still hold ADA.
Binance has about 130M registered users. How many of them can have ADA coins (and ETH coins) on the exchange? We can only make a very rough estimate.
Analyst firm Morning Consult tracks the number of cryptocurrency holders in the US. The latest available data is from April 2023. We can use this data and apply it to the entire world. The result will be inaccurate, but the sentiment about individual projects is roughly similar across the world.
Bitcoin is held by 16% of Americans, Ethereum by 12% and Cardano by 7%. Let's say there are roughly half as many ADA holders as ETH holders.
Let's assume that not all registered users are actively using Binance to hold cryptocurrencies. 100M is a nice number so let's use it as the number of current active users. BTC can be held on Binance by say 70% of active users, ETH by 50% (50M), and ADA by 25% (25M). Think of these as very rough estimates. The reality may be quite different.
What comes into play for us is that holders of a small amount of ETH are forced to use third parties for staking (like Binance) while ADA holders don't need to. We don't know if ADA holders are responsible and staking from their own Cardano wallets or if they prefer to use exchanges. So in theory the number of ADA holders on exchanges may be smaller than we think, but there is no way to prove it. In the case of Ethereum, we don't know how many people use Binance and how many prefer another solution, like Lido (which may be considered a safer solution).
If we are to follow the principle "not your keys, not your coins", the exchanges are ADA (and ETH) stakers regardless of who really owns (paid for) the coins. Seen through this lens, the number of ADA stakers is 1.3M with a footnote that several hundred stakers pool coins that belong to someone else.
If we were interested in the actual number of people who stake ADA in any way available, we would have to count the people on all the exchanges that allow staking. The other exchange we know of that allows ADA staking is Etoro, which has roughly half the share of Binance. Etoro has over 30M registered users. Our estimate is that roughly in the order of millions of users stake ADA on this exchange.
Another large exchange that allows ADA staking is Coinbase, which has roughly a similar number of registered users as Binance. Let's say there are roughly 10-20M ADA stakers. Let's assume that Coinbase is not used by significantly more stakers than Binance.
If someone holds a large number of ADA coins (millions), they can start their own pool. It is very risky for whales to stake ADA from centralized exchanges if they can achieve the same goal through their own wallet. Let's assume that whales don't stake on exchanges.
Tens of millions of people can stake ADA through exchanges. But according to on-chain analysis, there are only 1.3M of them. In terms of decentralization, roughly 10-30% of ADA is staked through centralized exchanges (Binance 4-10%, Coinbase 5-10%, Etoro 2.3% + others). This would mean that single stakers can be roughly 1M (regardless of the size of the stake held by individual stakers). We assume 300K stakers can form delegations from exchanges (although in the case of Binance, it will rather be only tens).
The number of ETH stakers
There are currently staked 23M ETH (19% of ETH in circulation). This amount allowed to run 720K validators. The number of staked ETH is growing every day (as well as the number of validators).
Ethereum requires 32 ETH to run the validator and there is no delegation mechanism at the protocol level. ETH stakers are forced to use third parties much more than in the case of Cardano. Either because they hold less ETH or because they don't want to run their own validator.
In addition to centralized exchanges, Liquid Staking providers such as Lido can be used. These services exchange ETH for Liquid Staking Derivatives (LSD) tokens. LSD tokens hold a similar market value to ETH. LSD tokens are liquid, people can spend them or use them in DeFi.
What we are interested in in the case of Ethereum is the number of ETH holders who use third parties and the number who run their own validators.
Lido currently has a nearly 32% share in staking (approaching the critical threshold where a potential Lido failure could result in a halt in block production). Lido operates 229K validators (almost a third) since it has collected 7,3M of ETH from 155K depositors. Interestingly, the average deposit per depositor comes out to 47 ETH. This means that Lido uses a lot of ETH whales.
Note that if the whales don't want to run their own node/validator then in the case of Cardano they can keep control of the ADA coins and stake them at the same time, while the whales in the Ethereum ecosystem are forced to entrust ETH to a third party.
Rocket Pool also offers a similar service to Lido, which has only a 3.2% stake in the staking. It operates 23K validators as it holds 740K ETH from roughly 13K depositors. The average deposit is 56 ETH.
Lido and Rocket Pools have a combined 35% share in staking and 170K stakers use these services.
The 3 centralized exchanges, Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken have roughly 18.5% staking share with 4.3M staked ETH. Together these CEXs operate 133K validators.
Similar to Cardano, we don't know how many people hold and stake ETH on exchanges. If the 3 CEXs together were used by 100M users, the average stake would be 0.043 ETH. That strikes us as a big difference in the context of the average deposit on Lido and Rocket Pool.
On the other hand, we figured that staking through exchanges can use 2x the amount of ETH holders than ADA holders, which correlates with the number of ETH holders compared to ADA holders in the US. If roughly 40M people stake ADA through the largest CEXs, it is realistic that in the case of Ethereum, it could be 80 to 120M.
The top 10 staking providers pool together 14.6M ETH, which is about 63% of the staking. The top 50 staking providers pool a total of roughly 16.5M ETH, which is about a 72% share. 28%, or about 6.5M ETH, is staked in other ways.
Assuming that 6.5 million ETHs make up the total number of individual entities (that hold 32 ETHs and run their own validator), this would mean that there would be a maximum of 203K such entities in the network. We don't think this will be the case in practice and it is more likely that each ETH fan who runs their own validators will have around 5 to 10 of them. So let's assume that single entities can be around 20K to 200K.
In the case of Ethereum, 170K stakers use the Lido and Rocket Pool services. This is a negligible amount in the context of centralized exchanges where tens of millions of stakers can stake ETH. It may be something around 100M stakers. Single stakers with their own validator may be around 200K at most, but more likely to be units or tens of thousands of individuals. We count each centralized staking provider as one entity.
The total number of ETH holders will be higher than ADA holders. The difference may be roughly double (or even triple). Exact figures cannot be obtained due to centralized exchanges. If we assume that BTC is held by 16% of US adults, ETH by 12%, and ADA by 7%, it is realistic that ADA is held by something like 10M Americans and Ethereum by 20M. Centralized exchanges are used by the entire world and it is possible that Americans make up a significant share. A few tens of millions of stakers on the exchanges is a realistic assumption.
If we are interested in the number of stakers in terms of decentralization, i.e. the actual number of people who have direct control over the production of blocks (not using third parties), Cardano is significantly better off. Centralized exchanges only stake roughly 10-30% of ADA coins. We know that the largest exchange Binance currently has only a 4% share, but it used to be 10%. Coinbase may have a roughly similar share, that is 10%. We can assume that 70% of ADA coins may be in the hands of SPOs and stakers. Their number may be roughly 1M (let's neglect the distribution of coins between them).
In the case of Ethereum, we know relatively accurately that over 70% of ETH is held by 50 staking providers (the 10 largest of them stake together over 63% of ETH). Less than 30% of staked ETH can theoretically be held by single-validator operators. At most there may be 200K, but in practice, it is more likely to be only roughly 20K.
It is likely that in a non-custodial way, more people are staking ADA than ETH.
Cardano may be 5x to 50x better off in terms of decentralization. However, even this is a very rough estimate as we have neglected the distribution of coins among users (whales) and the number of block-producing nodes.
In terms of the Minimum Attack Vector (MAV), the Lido and Rocket Pool has 35%, which is sufficient to stop the network. It is likely that Lido will soon cross the 33,3% threshold and Ethereum will have a MAV of 1. MAV of Cardano is currently 36.