Tech Update: Mobile & Social Media Usage, by Generation

May 9, 2018

Millennials continue to be the generation with the broadest access to smartphones and the heaviest use of social media. But Gen Xers are more apt to be using tablets and a majority of Boomers are also “embracing” digital technologies, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.

Here are some quick takeaways from the report.

1. 92% of Millennials Own A Smartphone

Roughly 78% of American adults are smartphones owners as of January 2018, per the study. That’s because 95% have a cell phone, and of those cell phone owners, 82% say it’s a smartphone.

Not surprisingly, smartphone ownership has blossomed in recent years. Less than 5 years prior than this latest study, in May 2013, just half of the adult population owned a smartphone.

While Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Xers (born 1965-1980) had similar rates of smartphone ownership back in 2011, penetration has grown slightly faster among the younger generation. As it stands, the latest data indicates that:

  • 92% of Millennials own a smartphone; as do
  • 85% of Gen Xers;
  • 67% of Boomers (born 1946-1964); and
  • 30% of Silents (born 1945 or earlier).

See here for a report on the 50+ bracket’s top smartphone activities.

2. 64% of Gen Xers Own A Tablet

Millennials might be leading the way in smartphone ownership, but Gen Xers are the most apt to have a tablet. In fact, Boomers are almost as likely as Millennials to own a tablet. The tablet ownership numbers break out as follows:

  • Millennials: 54%;
  • Gen Xers: 64%;
  • Boomers: 52%; and
  • Silents: 25%.

(See here for a report on what the 50+ bracket does with their tablets.)

All told, a slight majority (53%) of adults surveyed in January for Pew’s report own a tablet, up from roughly one-third (34%) about 5 years earlier, in May 2013.

3. 57% of Boomers Use Social Media

As expected, Millennials are the most apt to be using social media: 85% claim to do so as of January of this year.

Interestingly enough, though, older generations have been closing the gap in recent years, as social media usage has grown more rapidly for Gen Xers and Boomers than for Millennials.

The following figures show social media adoption in 2018 compared to 2012:

  • Millennials: 85%, up from 81%;
  • Gen Xers: 75%, up from 64%;
  • Boomers: 57%, up from 40%; and
  • Silents: 23%, up from 15%.

For a breakdown of the adult audience composition of each of the 6 major social media networks, see MarketingCharts’ “US Media Audience Demographics” report.

Meanwhile, if you’re keeping score, the above figures demonstrate that smartphone penetration (67%), tablet adoption (52%) and social media usage (57%) have each exceeded the majority threshold among Boomers.

4. 20% of Adults Rely on A Smartphone for Broadband Internet

In a separate report based on the same survey, Pew reveals that 65% of American adults have broadband at home, while 20% have a smartphone but no broadband, and 15% have no broadband at all.

The incidence of broadband access at home is similar among the 18-29 (67%), 30-49 (70%) and 50-64 (68%) age brackets, but the similarities end there. That’s because fully 28% of 18-29-year-olds rely on their smartphone for broadband (not having broadband at home), with that figure declining to 24% of 30-49-year-olds and 16% of 50-64-year-olds. Instead, these older generations are more likely to not have broadband altogether, with that the case for 17% of 50-64-year-olds.

The findings also demonstrate that cleavages in broadband access extends to race/ethnicity, education level and household income:

  • Whites are the most likely to use broadband at home (72%) and the least likely to be “smartphone only” for broadband (14%), with the opposite true for Hispanics (47% and 35%), respectively; while
  • The higher the educational attainment and household income, the more likely the respondent to have broadband at home and the less likely they are to rely on smartphones in lieu of home broadband.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 2,002 US adults (18+), including 1,502 cell phone interviews, conducted from January 3-10, 2018.

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