September 19, 2011

Americans and Text Messaging

Some 83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked those texters in a survey how they prefer to be contacted on their cell phone and 31% said they preferred texts to talking on the phone, while 53% said they preferred a voice call to a text message. Another 14% said the contact method they prefer depends on the situation.

Heavy text users are much more likely to prefer texting to talking. Some 55% of those who exchange more than 50 messages a day say they would rather get a text than a voice call.

Young adults are the most avid texters by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month).

Overall, the survey found that both text messaging and phone calling on cell phones have leveled off for the adult population as a whole. Text messaging users send or receive an average of 41.5 messages on a typical day, with the median user sending or receiving 10 texts daily – both figures are largely unchanged from what we reported in 2010. Similarly, cell owners make or receive an average of 12 calls on their cells per day, which is unchanged from 2010.

These results come from a nationally representative phone survey of 2,277 adults ages 18 and older conducted from April 26-May 22, 2011, including 755 cell phone interviews. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/-2.3 percentage points, while the margin of error for cell phone users is +/-2.7 percentage points.

A note on the terminology used in this report: Throughout this report, we will refer to the “average” (or mean) number of texts or calls per day, as well as to the number of texts or calls made by the “typical” (or median) user. The median is the midpoint that separates the upper half from the lower half of a given group, while the mean is a numerical average.