Generational Disparities in Internet Use

A new Pew Research study notes that there are still notable differences by generation in online activities, but the dominance of the Millennial generation that was documented in the first "Generations" report in 2009 has slipped in many activities.

This is the second report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project exploring how different generations use the internet. All the generation labels used in these reports, with the exceptions of "Younger Boomers" and "Older Boomers," are the names conventionalized by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book, Generations: The History of America's Future. The Pew Project "Generations reports" makes the distinction between younger and older Boomers, but Pew separated Younger Boomers and Older Boomers here because enough research has been done to suggest that the two decades are distinct generational groups.

Generations

Generation name

Birth years, Ages in 2010

% of total adult population

% of internet-using population

Millennials

Born 1977-1992, Ages 18-33

30%

35%

Gen X

Born 1965-1976, Ages 34-45

19

21

Younger Boomers

Born 1955-1964, Ages 46-55

20

20

Older Boomers

Born 1946-1954, Ages 56-64

14

13

Silent Generation

Born 1937-1945, Ages 65-73

7

5

G.I. Generation

Born -1936, Age 74+

9

3

Source: Pew Research, December 2010

Milliennials, those ages 18-33, remain more likely to access the internet wirelessly with a laptop or mobile phone. In addition, they still clearly surpass their elders online when it comes to:

  •  Use of social networking sites
  • Use of instant messaging
  • Using online classifieds
  • Listening to music
  • Playing online games
  • Reading blogs
  • Participating in virtual worlds

However, internet users in Gen X (those ages 34-45) and older cohorts are more likely than Millennials to engage in several online activities, including visiting government websites and getting financial information online.

Among the major trends in online activities:

  •  While the youngest generations are still significantly more likely to use social network sites, the fastest growth has come from internet users 74 and older: social network site usage for this oldest cohort has quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%.
  • The percentage of all adult internet users who watch video online jumped 14 points in the past two years, from 52% in May 2008 to 66% in May 2010.
  • 51% of all online adults listen to music online, compared with 34% the last time this question was asked, in June 2004. While Millennials used to be by far the most avid listeners, Gen Xers and Younger Boomers are catching up.
  • As of May 2010, 53% of online adults have used a classified ads website such as Craigstlist, up from 32% in September 2007.
  • Additionally, searching for health information, an activity that was once the primary domain of older adults, is now the third most popular online activity for all internet users 18 and older.

Generations Online

Generation

Age Group

% Who Go Online

Millennials

Ages 18-33

95%

Gen X

Ages 34-45

86

Younger Boomers

Ages 46-55

81

Older Boomers

Ages 56-64

76

Silent Generation

Ages 65-73

58

G.I. Generation

Age 74+

30

All online adults

Age 18+

79

Source: Pew Research, December 2010

Seventy-nine percent of all American adults go online, a number that has remained relatively steady since early 2006. While most generations have internet adoption rates of at least 70%, internet use drops off significantly for adults over age 65: only 58% the Silent Generation and 30% of the G.I. Generation go online. As a result, younger generations continue to be over-represented in the online population, with adults ages 45 and younger constituting about 56% of the online population, despite making up only 49% of the total adult population. The Millennial generation is particularly prominent online

Generations Online Vs. Generations Offline (% Of U.S. Adult Population)

 

Millennials

 Gen X

 Younger Boomers

 Older Boomers

 Silent Generation

 G.I. Generation (74+)

Overall pop

30

19

20

14

7

9

Online pop

35

21

30

13

5

3

Source: Pew Research, December 2010

31% of non-internet users say that the main reason they do not go online is that they are simply not interested in doing so. 12% cite not having a computer, and 10% say that it would be too expensive.

Main Reasons For Not Using The Internet

Reason

% of Respondents

All offline adults Age 18+ % who do not use the internet

21%

Just not interested

31

Don't have a computer

12

Too expensive

10

Too difficult

9

It's a waste of time

7

Don't have a access

6

Don't have time to learn

6

Too old to learn

4

Don't want/need it

4

Just don't know how

2

Physically unable

2

Worried about viruses/spyware/spam

1

Other

5

Source: Pew Research, December 2010

 

Online Activities (% of Generation Group)

 

% Engaging

Activity

Teens

Millennials

Gen X

Younger Boomers

Older Boomers

Silent Gen.

G.I. Gen.

All adults Age 18+

Go online

93%

95%

86%

81%

76%

58%

30%

79%

Teens and/or Millennials are more likely to engage in the following activities compared with older users

Watch a video

57

80

66

62

55

44

20

66

Use social network sites

73

83

62

50

43

34

16

61

Send IMs

67

66

52

35

30

29

4

47

Play online games

78

50

38

26

28

25

18

35

Read blogs

49

43

34

27

25

23

15

32

Visit a virtual world

8

4

4

4

3

3

1

4

Activities where Gen X users or older generations dominate

Visit a government website

*

61

75

73

69

56

41

67

Get financial info

*

33

38

41

41

44

30

38

For some activities, the youngest and oldest cohorts may differ, but there is less variation overall

Send or read e-mail

73

96

94

91

93

90

88

94

Use a search engine

*

92

87

86

87

82

72

87

Look for health info

31

85

84

84

85

76

59

83

Get news

62

76

79

76

76

67

54

75

Buy a product

48

68

66

64

69

59

57

66

Make travel reservations

*

64

67

70

67

61

53

66

Bank online

*

62

62

58

56

44

35

58

Use online classifieds

*

64

58

49

42

30

17

53

Listen to music online

*

65

58

48

38

25

12

51

Look for religious info

*

31

35

34

33

26

28

32

Rate a product, service or person

*

32

32

29

40

38

16

32

Participate in an auction

*

28

31

25

25

13

7

26

Make a charitable donation

*

21

24

24

23

20

13

22

Download podcasts

*

26

20

20

16

12

10

21

Work on own blog

14

18

16

11

11

8

5

14

Source: Pew Research, December 2010

 

Editor's Note:

This is a very complete and complex report and, if the subject is relevant to you, I urge readers to pursue the entire text summary and PDF file for additional clarification and information.

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3 comments about "Generational Disparities in Internet Use".
  1. George Ferris from fkq , January 7, 2011 at 1:12 p.m.

    any data available on generational users and their respective income levels?

  2. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network , January 9, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.

    George Ferris asks an important question. I'd be interested in income levels, too. The Pew Research page linked from this article does not show which questions were asked. Without knowing that, these results are both very broad, and very vague.

  3. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive , January 16, 2011 at 7:38 p.m.

    Pew usually does a good job of making their data sets available here: http://pewinternet.org/Data-Tools/Download-Data/Data-Sets.aspx

    Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they have made these Generations data sets available yet. If you really want to dig into it, you may want to write and ask. I have always found them to be fairly accommodating.