The Demographics of US Smartphone and Tablet Users

November 3, 2015

Pew-Demographics-Tech-Device-Ownership-Nov2015Slightly more than two-thirds of American adults (68%) now own a smartphone, representing a rapid rise from about half that proportion (35%) in mid-2011, details the Pew Internet & American Life Project in a recent study [pdf]. Tablet ownership has also been on a rapid upward trajectory, increasing from 3% of American adults in 2010 to 45% this year. So who owns these devices?

Not surprisingly, smartphone ownership is highest among youth, with 86% of 18-29-year-olds reporting ownership of a smartphone, although 30-49-year-olds (83%) are close behind. A majority (58%) of 50-64-year-olds also own a smartphone, though adoption falls to 30% among those aged 65 and up.

It’s a slightly different pattern for tablet adoption, with ownership highest among the 30-49 group (57%), followed by the 18-29 bracket (50%). While ownership is again lower among older generations, the gap isn’t as large as with smartphones, as 37% of those aged 50-64 and 32% of adults aged 65 and older report owning a tablet.

Smartphone and tablet ownership also have different patterns when sorting by gender and race/ethnicity. While smartphone ownership is slightly higher among men (70%) than women (66%), the opposite is true for tablets, owned by 47% of women and 43% of men. And while tablet ownership is considerably higher among non-Hispanic whites (47%) than Blacks (38%) and Hispanics (35%), smartphone ownership rates are generally consistent, highest among Blacks (65%) and lowest among Hispanics (64%).

Smartphone and tablet ownership patterns are more similar when looking at income and education, with penetration rising alongside educational attainment and household income. For example, adults with at least a college degree are almost twice as likely as those without a high school degree to own a smartphone (81% vs. 41%). And while a bare majority (52%) of lower-income (<$30k) adults own a smartphone, that figure rises to 87% among those in higher-income ($75k+) households.The gaps in ownership are wider, however, among tablet owners. For example, adults in higher-income households are more than 3 times as likely as those in lower-income households to own a tablet (62% vs. 19%). And those with at least a college degree are more than twice as likely as those without a high school degree to own the device (67% vs. 28%).Smartphone and tablet penetration rates also vary on a regional basis, per a recent Nielsen report [download page]. Tablet penetration is highest in Atlanta (67% of households), followed by Washington, DC (66%), New York (63%) and Boston (63%), while smartphone penetration is highest in Dallas (88% of mobile subscribers aged 13+), Portland (87%), Denver (87%) and Phoenix (85%).

Separately, the Pew study also looks at ownership of several other devices, including computers, game consoles, e-readers, MP3 players, and gaming devices. Unlike with mobile devices, penetration rates of these other gadgets have either stalled or gradually declined in recent years, with e-reader ownership down substantially this year (19%) from early last year (32%). Some notable demographic results from these analyses include:

  • Computer ownership being far higher among non-Hispanic whites (79%) than Blacks (45%);
  • A majority of adults in the 18-29 (56%) and 30-49 (55%) brackets owning a game console, with this figure down to 8% among those aged 65 and older;
  • Gaming console ownership being higher among women (42%) than men (37%);
  • About half (51%) of adults aged 18-49 owning an MP3 player;
  • E-reader ownership being consistent at 18-19% across age groups; and
  • Ownership of portable gaming devices being broadest among 18-29-year-olds (21%) and higher-income households (21%).

The full report can be accessed here [pdf].

About the Data: The Pew Research Center describes its methodology in part as follows:

“The analysis in this report is based on two Pew Research Center surveys. One survey was conducted March 17 through April 12, 2015, among a national sample of 1,907 adults, ages 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. 672 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,235 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 730 who had no landline telephone. The full survey included interviews with respondents ages 16 and 17; the 1,907 respondents in this analysis include only those 18 and older. The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The smartphone ownership data are based on telephone interviews conducted June 10 through July 12, 2015, among a national sample of 2,001 adults, ages 18 years and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. 701 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,300 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 709 who had no landline telephone.”


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