September 2, 2010

Cell phones and American adults

72% of American adults text

Americans say their mobile phones make them feel safer and more connected, but are irritated by cell intrusions and rudeness by other users

WASHINGTON – Texting by American adults has increased substantially over the past year, but still does not approach the magnitude of text messages exchanged by adolescents. Some 72% of adult cell phone users send and receive text messages now, up from 65% in September 2009. Fully 87% of teen cell users text. Teens text 50 messages a day on average, five times more than the typical 10 text messages sent and received by adults per day.

Still, for most adults, voice calling is their primary use of the phone. They make and receive about 5 calls per day on average.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project report Cell Phones and American Adults is based on the findings of May 2010 telephone survey of adults 18 and older and compares them to our most recent data on teens 12-17 collected in September 2009.

African American and English-speaking Hispanics are more likely to own a cell phone and to use their handset more intensively than their white counterparts.

  • 87% of African Americans and English-speaking Hispanics own cell phones, compared to 80% of whites.
  • 12% of African American and 14% of English-speaking Hispanics make and receive more than 30 calls a day on their mobile phones. 4% of whites report placing and receive that many calls.
  • African American and Hispanic texters typical send and receive 10 texts a day; whites who text typically send and receive 5 texts a day.

For all of their enthusiasm for texting and talking on their cells, Americans have mixed feelings about the role of the mobile phone in their lives. Most cell users report that their cell phone makes them feel safer (91%), and that they appreciate the way it allows them to arrange plans with family and friends (88% agree.) But mobile phone users also report that they get irritated when a call or text interrupts them (42%) and that they find it rude when others check their phones repeatedly during meetings or conversations (86%).

Some of the other main findings of the report include:

  • Heavy users of cell phones for texting are heavy users of the phone for calling as well. Light texters are generally light callers and vice versa.
  • 65% of American adults with cell phones sleep with their phone on or right next to their bed
  • 57% of adults with cells report receiving unwanted or spam text messages on their phone.
  • 90% of parents have a cell phone compared with 72% of adults without children under 18 at home.

These findings come from a nationwide telephone survey of 2,252 American adults (including 744 interviewed on cell phones) conducted between April 29 and May 30, 2010. The margin of error is two percentage points for the total sample and three percentage points for results based on internet users (n=1,756). Data on teens is from a nationally-representative telephone survey with 800 teens 12 to 17 and parent or guardian, fielded from June 26 to September 24, 2009. Margin of error is 4 percentage points for teens who use the internet or cell phones and five percentage points for teens who text.

About the Pew Internet Project

The Pew Research Centers Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

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