December 22, 2003

The growth of the Internet population has slowed, but Internet users are doing more online

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 22 – The number of Americans who have done basic online activities such as getting health information, accessing government data, buying products, and participating in auctions has increased smartly in the past three years, but the growth of the number of Internet users has slowed dramatically markedly in the past two years.

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project analyzing the responses of more than 64,000 Americans to phone surveys in the past three years shows that 63% of U.S. adults now are online and many of them – especially those with several years of online experience – have built Internet use into the lives in practical ways.

“While there was once a time when the Internet was interesting because it was dazzling, it is now a normalized part of daily life for about two-thirds of the U.S. population,” noted Research Specialist Mary Madden, the author of the new report, which is called “Online Pursuits: The changing picture of who’s online and what they do.”

She continued: “For some, it has become an integral and required part of work or school. For others, it is a primary means to stay in touch with family and friends. And for still others, it is a source of entertainment and diversion.”

Among our findings about change in the Internet world over time:

Online activity has consistently grown over the course of our research. Internet users discover more things to do online as they gain experience and as new applications become available. This momentum often fuels increasing reliance on the Internet in everyday life and higher expectations about the things people can do online.

Despite this growth in activity, the growth of the online population itself has slowed. There was almost no growth over the course of 2002 and there has been only a small uptick in recent months to leave the size of the online U.S. adult population at 63% of all those 18 and over.

Different people use the Internet in different ways. The report is full of examples of how people in different demographic groups use the Internet for different purposes.

Experience and the quality of online connections matter. Those with more experience online and those who have high-speed connections at home generally do more online more often than those with lower levels of experience and those with dial-up connections. The growth of the cohort of veteran users, those with at least three years of online experience, has been striking. Nearly three-quarters of Internet users have at least three years of experience.

Online Americans’ experience with the commercial side of the Internet has expanded dramatically in spite of the economic slump. Financial and transaction activities such as online banking and online auctions have grown more than any other genre of activity.

Email continues to be the “killer app” of the Internet. More people use email than do any other activity online. Many report their email use increases their communication with key family and friends and enhances their connection to them.

Big news stories drive lasting changes in the news-seeking audience online.

Project Director Lee Rainie noted that there will be future growth of the Internet population as the younger generation of Internet enthusiasts moves into the workplace and mainstream American life. He said: “All the trends set out here seem destined to continue, if not evolve, as the technology gets better, the applications become simpler, the appliances that use the Internet become omnipresent, and the technology fades into the background of people’s lives – as powerful, ubiquitous, commonplace, and ‘invisible’ as electricity.”

Other findings in the report that looks at trends at:

  • The size of the online population on a typical day grew from 52 million Americans in March 2000 to 66 million in August 2003 – an increase of 27%.
  • 87% of U.S. Internet users said they have access at home and 48% said they have access at work in our August 2003 survey. 31% of Internet users who go online from home have broadband as of August 2003.
  • 31% of those who use the Internet at home have broadband connections.

    The Pew Internet Project is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization, fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to investigate the social impact of the Internet.