People Keep Expanding Their Internet Activity

The next time everyone makes a big deal of the Internet, maybe it won’t be a bubble. Granted, you don’t see a lot of 23-year-olds becoming Internet billionaires just now. But that hasn’t stopped consumers from making the technology more a part of their daily lives. A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project offers fresh data on the phenomenon.

In the popular imagination, the Internet is associated with the young. This obscures a simple fact: The steady aging of the population is what’s pushing up the rate of Internet penetration among U.S. adults. Every day, unwired geezers die off and are replaced in the ranks of adults by people who grew up with the technology. According to Pew’s data, 78 percent of Americans ages 18-27 are wired, as are 78 percent of the 28-39s. The proportion then declines gradually: 71 percent of 40-49s, 62 percent of 50-58s and 47 percent of 59-68s use the Internet. The number falls off sharply, to 17 percent, for those 69-plus. (But isn’t that still a remarkable number?) Predictably, Internet penetration is higher in high-income households: 89 percent of those with household income of $75,000-plus are wired, as are 86 percent in the $50,000-74,999 range and 69 percent of the $30,000-49,999 cohort. Even among those making less than $30,000, though, 41 percent use the Internet. The chart here gives a sense of the frequency of people’s online excursions.

Of special interest to marketers is the fact that 65 percent of Internet users have bought something online—”the highest reading on e-shopping we have ever recorded.” Moreover, the growth in online commerce “has occurred across all demographic groups.” For instance, the proportion of online Latinos who are e-shoppers has risen to 63 percent from 41 percent in a December 2000 study; the proportion of wired blacks who shop via the Internet has risen to 59 percent from 47 percent. The incidence of e-shopping has climbed even among wired senior citizens: 49 percent of Internet users 65 and older have shopped online, vs. 38 percent in the December 2000 poll. Most tellingly, e-shopping has become a part of many people’s routine. On “a typical day,” 16 percent of wired adults “research a product or service before buying it.” And e-marketers should doff their caps to the 3 percent of wired adults for whom a typical day includes buying something online.

The study also took a look at the growth in wireless Internet access. Seventeen percent of Internet users said they’ve gone online via a wireless device. Among respondents in the 18-27 age group, the figure rose to 28 percent.