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Nearly Half of Americans Are Frequent Internet Users

Less affluent, non-working, unmarried post big gains in usage since last year

by Lymari Morales

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' frequent use of the Internet has almost doubled over the last five years; 48% now report using the Internet more than one hour per day compared to 26% in 2002.


Large education, income, and age gaps continue to exist in terms of Internet usage. Post-graduates, those making more than $75,000 per year, and those under age 30 are the most frequent users of the Internet, with more than 6 out of 10 in each group saying they use the Internet more than one hour per day. At the same time, the least educated, least affluent, and oldest Americans are those who least often use the Internet, with about one-third or fewer in each group saying they use the Internet more than one hour per day. Smaller, though noteworthy, gaps also exist between men and women, and the employed versus the non-working.


Among these demographic groups, several posted gains in frequent Internet use in the past year (more than one hour per day) significantly greater than the five percentage point gain measured among adults nationwide. The five groups posting double-digit gains are those making less than $30,000 per year, those who are not working, those who are unmarried, those who are under age 30, and those with post graduate educations.


Men and those 65 and older round out the groups posting gains greater than the national average. The gains among men are particularly interesting when compared to the negligible change among women. Further, it is worth noting that college graduates, those aged 30-49 years, and those making $75,000 or more per year were actually slightly less likely than one year ago to report using the Internet more than one hour per day.


Bottom Line

Americans are using the Internet more frequently than ever. While the most educated, most affluent, and youngest Americans are those more likely to say they use the Internet more than one hour per day, the less affluent, non-working, and unmarried are increasing their usage at noteworthy rates. Overall, the shifts recorded over the past year suggest that some of the historical gaps in Internet use across demographic groups may be narrowing. If these changes continue, it would represent an important closing of the economic and educational Internet divides.

With the Internet still in its infancy according to most technology experts, it is reasonable to anticipate continued growth in use among all of these sectors in the years to come. At the same time, the fact that several groups show either stable or declining usage certainly gives rise to the question of whether some sort of plateau is possible. In either case, business leaders -- and advertisers in particular -- will be well-served to keep these burgeoning trends in mind. While targeting content toward the most educated, most affluent, and youngest Americans may be an effective strategy today, the growth evident among their counterparts at the other end of the spectrum suggests new strategies may be needed to cater to the frequent Internet users of tomorrow.

Click page 2 to see the complete results for this year.


Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 4-7, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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