Pew: 73% of Cell Phone Owners Text
To date, rumors of the death of mobile text messaging have been greatly exaggerated. Despite competition from a growing field of rival services from instant messaging to chat to newer offerings like Apple's iMessage and Facebook Messenger, SMS text messaging does not seem to be losing its appeal for mobile users.
New data from the Pew Research Center finds that nearly three-quarters (73%) of American cell phone owners are texting, and nearly a third (31%) prefer texting to talking. That roughly matches recent data from comScore showing that 70% of U.S. mobile subscribers use text message.
Young people are the most avid practitioners, with those between 18 and 24 exchanging an average of 109.5 messages on a typical day. That works out to more than 3,200 texts per month -- and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1,500 messages per month).
To put that in perspective, the average of 109.5 texts per day among 18- to-24-year-olds is more than double the comparable figure for 25-to-34-year-olds, and 23 times that for those 65 or older.
While texting remains the most pervasive non-voice mobile activity, the Pew study finds that among adults as a whole, usage is leveling off. Text messaging users trade an average of 41.5 messages on a typical day, with the median user sending or receiving 10 texts daily. Both figures are virtually unchanged from 2010. Similarly, cell owners make or receive an average of 12 calls on their cells per day, the same as last year.
Calling and texting is not a zero sum game. The study found that people who text often also make a large number of calls and vice versa. So mobile users who exchanged zero to 10 messages a day made or received an average of 8.2 voice calls. At the other extreme, those who traded more than 50 texts on a normal day exchanged an average of 30.2 calls.
In additio to teens and twentysomethings, ethnic minorities continue to demonstrate a pattern of greater mobile activity than other groups. African-Americans and Hispanics, for instance, exchange 70 and 49 text messages a day compared to about 31 for whites. Smartphone users and those at the lower end of the income and education scale also text more frequently.
A key to the enduring popularity of text messaging, however, has been its standardization across devices, networks and operating systems.
"Interoperability has a lot to do with it -- anyone with a phone can text anyone else without worrying whether or not the person they are trying to reach is on the same service -- as does the fact that you can text from pretty much any type of cell phone," noted Aaron Smith, a senior research specialist with Pew's Internet & American Life Project. "After all, fewer than half of cell owners have smartphones, but even people on more basic phones can text-even if they don't have access to some other tools you mentioned."
Wireless operators are banking on the continuing addiction to texting to plump up mobile data revenues. Last month, AT&T ended a plan for new subscribers providing 1,000 text messages for $10. Instead, individual customers will have to choose between an unlimited text plan for $20 a month or pay the standard 20-cent per-message charge.
The Pew study results come from a nationally representative phone survey of 2,277 adults ages 18 and older, conducted from April 26 to May 22, including 755 cell phone interviews.