September 16, 2013

Cell Internet Use 2013

Main Findings

Nearly two thirds of cell phone owners use their phone to go online, and one in five cell owners do most of their online browsing on their phone

Six in ten cell phone owners (63%) now go online using their mobile phones, an eight-point increase from the 55% of cell owners who did so at a similar point in 2012 and a two-fold increase over the 31% who did so in 2009. We call these individuals “cell internet users,” and they include anyone who:

  • Uses the internet on their cell phone (60% of cell owners do this), or
  • Uses email on their cell phone (52% of cell owners do this)

Taken together, 63% of cell owners do one or both of these things, and are classified as cell internet users. Since 91% of Americans are cell phone owners, this means that 57% of all Americans now go online using a mobile phone. The steady increase in cell phone internet usage follows a similar growth trajectory for smartphone ownership.  Over half of all adults (56%) now own a smartphone, and 93% of these smartphone owners use their phone to go online.

Overall cell internet use

The demographics of cell phone internet usage

Just as the overall increase in cell phone internet usage has coincided with the growth in smartphone adoption, the demographic groups most likely to go online using their phones tend to match those with high levels of smartphone ownership. In particular, the following groups have high levels of cell phone internet use:

  • Young adults: Cell owners ages 18-29 are the most likely of any demographic group to use their phone to go online: 85% of them do so, compared with 73% of cell owners ages 30-49, and 51% of those ages 50-64. Just 22% of cell owners ages 65 and older go online from their phones, making seniors the least likely demographic group to go online from a cell phone.
  • Non-whites: Three-quarters (74%) of African-American cell phone owners are cell internet users, as are 68% of Hispanic cell owners.
  • The college-educated: Three-quarters (74%) of cell owners with a college degree or higher are cell internet users, along with two-thirds (67%) of those who have attended (but not graduated) college.
  • The financially well-off: Cell phone owners living in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more per year are significantly more likely than those in every other income category to go online using their phones.  Some 79% of these affluent cell owners do so.
  • Urban and suburban residents: Urban and suburban cell owners are significantly more likely to be cell internet users than those living in rural areas.  Some 66% of urbanites and 65% of suburban-dwellers do so, compared to half of rural residents.

Cell internet demographics

The prevalence of cell phone internet usage increased across a number of demographic groups since April 2012.  This includes men and women, whites and African-Americans, the college-educated, and those in the highest-income households.   Notably, cell owners between the ages of 50 and 64 experienced a larger-than-average 15 percentage point increase in the past year. Some 51% of cell owners ages 50-64 now use their phone to go online, up from 36% who did so in the spring of 2012.

Change over time of cell phone internet demographics

34% of cell internet users go online mostly using their phones

When asked which device they use most often to access the internet, one third (34%) of cell internet users say that they mostly use their cell phone rather than some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer (we refer to this group as “cell-mostly internet users”). Half (53%) of cell internet users say that they mostly go online from a device other than their cell phone, while 11% say that they use both their phone and some other device(s) equally.

As noted above, some 63% of cell owners use their phone to go online, so the “cell-mostly internet user” group represents 21% of the entire cell phone owner population.

Mobile internet access points

The 34% of cell internet users who mostly use their phone to go online is similar to the 31% who did so in April 2012, but significantly larger than the 27% who did so the first time we asked this question in May 2011.

Demographics of cell-mostly internet users

The Pew Research Center has been tracking the “cell mostly internet user” phenomenon since 2011, and over that time several demographic groups—young adults, non-whites, the less educated, and the less affluent—have said that they go online mostly using their cell phone at consistently high rates.1 This remains true in 2013, as our data indicates:

  • Non-whites: Among those who use their phone to go online, six in ten Hispanics and 43% of African-Americans are cell-mostly internet users, compared with 27% of whites.
  • Young adults: Half of cell internet users ages 18-29 mostly use their cell phone to go online.
  • The less-educated: Some 45% of cell internet users with a high school diploma or less mostly use their phone to go online, compared with 21% of those with a college degree.
  • The less-affluent: Similarly, 45% of cell internet users living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 mostly use their phone to go online, compared with 27% of those living in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more.

Demographics of cell-mostly internet users

  1. In April 2012, we asked about ownership of a range of technology devices (cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, e-readers, and tablet computers). With the exception of young adults, the demographic groups listed here as especially likely to be cell-mostly internet users are also relatively likely to only own a cell phone (and not any other computing devices).