OPA Study Suggests The Web Plays A Central Role In The Lives Of 18-to-34-Year-Olds

A study conducted by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) analyzes the Internet habits of 18-to-34-year-olds, and confirms what many people already suspect: Gen X and Y have embraced the Web in a big way. While the initial installment of the study--unveiled today--reaffirms some commonly held beliefs about the sexes, it also reveals less obvious insights about how the highly coveted demographic accesses the 'Net, and the degree of trust it places in the medium.

Conducted in conjunction with comScore Networks, the study found that a whopping 73 percent of all 18-to-34-year-olds are online. Their time spent on the Web accounts for 38 percent of total time spent online by the entire U.S. population. These numbers become even more staggering considering that this group comprises 24 percent of the total U.S. population.

"This study really debunks the myth that teens are the heaviest users online," asserts Lauren Wiener, managing director at Meredith Interactive, publisher of American Baby. The company acquired the title to expand its reach to young families, particularly women ages 25-34.

"Eighteen-to-34-year-olds aren't spending significantly more time online," says OPA president Michael Zimbalist, "but in that same amount of time, they're doing a much wider range of activities." Their level of familiarity with the Internet mirrors that notion. As compared to 77 percent of all Internet users age 18 and above, 82 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds are comfortable with the technology. And, judging from the sophisticated ways they use the Internet, comfort is a relative term. For instance, 25 percent of this group sends or shares video via the Web, compared to 6 percent of all Internet users. Plus, 42 percent burn downloaded music to CDs, versus 24 percent of all Internet users 18 and older.

The 18-to-34-year-old demo turns to the Web for entertainment. In fact, 30 percent visit entertainment sites daily, compared to 32 percent who read newspaper entertainment sections and 19 percent who read entertainment magazines. The demo not only accesses the Internet for music, movies, and gaming, but for utilitarian purposes such as career information, classifieds, and car rentals.

The Web is so integrated into the lives of 18-to-34-year-olds, it's becoming commonplace for them to use it no matter where they are. Compared to 15 percent of people age 18 and above, 24 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds access the Web from friends' homes, and 16 percent use a cell phone to surf the 'Net.

"Online is a part of their day anywhere, anytime they have a moment," explains Meredith's Wiener, who sees the Web as an integral component to print campaigns. A mom-to-be may see a print ad featuring a nursery, she suggests, and then go online to "try out paint colors, evaluate crib manufacturers, and buy it--and do it all online during her lunch break."

"I was glad to see their activity in things like banking and financial categories," comments J. Riley McDonough, vice president of sales at ESPN.com, which counts men as 95 percent of its readership. For the majority of financial categories including personal finance and online trading, penetration is about the same for 18-to-34-year-olds as for those age 18 and above. Yet, the younger group is more likely to do banking transactions, check account balances online, and use online payment services such as PayPal.

"They have a high degree of not only involvement, but trust in the Internet," suggests McDonough, especially when compared to older generations, which he believes maintain "a high degree of skepticism."

Not surprisingly, men differ from women, primarily in terms of the type of information they access via the Web. While 18-to-34-year-old men rarely visit retail sites, 10 of the 15 content categories their female counterparts gravitate toward fall under the retail umbrella, such as cosmetics and home furnishings. On the other hand, the men in this group go online most often for information about gaming, cars, and sports. Although they do visit retail sites for select things, more than 30 percent access movie ticket sites, and 39 percent visit consumer electronics retail sites.

When it comes to employing the study to help garner more online ad dollars, "this gives us a lot of additional ammo," McDonough says.

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