US Internet and Social Media Usage Plateau

October 16, 2018

Internet usage, as well as social media adoption and device ownership, have seemingly reached a plateau after several years of growth, reports the Pew Research Center. For example, the percentage of US adults using social media rests at 69% this year, unchanged from 2016.

Internet use, for its part, now stands at 89% of US adults, up only marginally from 2016 (88%). And device use is largely unchanged, too:

  • 95% of US adults own or use a cellphone, flat from 2016;
  • 77% own or use a smartphone, unchanged from 2016;
  • 73% own or use a desktop or laptop computer, down from 78% in 2016; and
  • 53% own or use a tablet, up slightly from 51%.

One finding as a result of these minor changes, though, is that more adults now own or use a smartphone than a desktop or laptop computer.

Meanwhile, the Pew analysts attribute the stalling of device and internet usage to near-saturation in many key demographics.

For example, virtually all adults ages 18-49 own or use a cellphone (99%) and use the internet (97%). Smartphone ownership or use (91%) and social media use (82%) among adults in this age bracket haven’t much room for growth, either.

Two other groups demonstrate similar patterns: people with a college education, and those with household income of at least $75,000.

Among college graduates, more than 9 in 10 own or use a cellphone (97%), use the internet (97%), own or use a smartphone (91%) and own or use a desktop/laptop computer (91%).

And among those with household income of at least $75,000, virtually all likewise own or use a cellphone (98%), use the internet (98%), own or use a smartphone (93%), and own or use a desktop/laptop computer (92%). And while social media usage among these higher-income households (77%) has some perceivable room for growth, tablet ownership or use is already high, at 77%.

These disparities are largely ongoing. Earlier this year, Pew reported that while 11% of adults overall didn’t use the internet, that figure jumped to 34% of people ages 65 and older, 35% of people without a high school degree, and 19% of people with household income lower than $35k. Those same variances in usage also were apparent in a similar survey conducted in 2013; even as internet adoption has grown, the same variances have remained.

Another gap in internet usage relates to geographic areas. Rural Americans are almost three times more likely than urban adults (22% and 8%, respectively) to not go online. And as a recent Pew survey demonstrates, access to high-speed internet is “a major problem” for 24% of adults living in rural areas, compared to just 13% of those living in urban communities.

About the Data: The 2018 results are based on a survey conducted in January, while internet use data from 2016 is based on a pooled analysis of all surveys conducted that year.

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