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Since 2006, the proportion of Americans who own a desktop computer has fallen slightly from 68% to 59%, while the proportion with a laptop computer has increased dramatically from 30% in April 2006 to 52% in September 2010, according to new data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Younger Users Prefer Laptops
Eighteen-to-29-year olds are currently the only major demographic group for whom laptops are notably more commonplace than desktop computers. Nearly three-quarters of 18-29 year olds (72%) own a laptop computer, compared with 56% who have a desktop computer.

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Laptop ownership goes down and desktop ownership goes up as consumers age. Among 30-49-year-olds, 61% own a laptop and 67% own a desktop. These figures continue that trend among 50-64-year-olds (44% own a laptop and 63% own a desktop) and 65 and older (39% own a laptop and 31% own a desktop).

General computer ownership, which stands at 76% for all American adults, also peaks with the youngest users (88%) and gradually declines with age, reaching a low of 45% for adults 65 and older.

Education Largest Differentiator in Computer Ownership
Overall, computer ownership is most prevalent within higher-income households, as more than nine in ten households with an annual income of $50,000 or more contain a computer of some kind (98% of households with an annual income of $75,000 or more).

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This figure drops to 59% for households with an annual income of $30,000 or less. However, the starkest differences in overall computer ownership occur when adults are segmented by educational level. Only 42% of adults who did not finish high school own a computer, compared to 94% of those who attended college beyond a bachelor’s degree.

In addition, differences in computer ownership among post-college adults, compared to college graduates, high school graduates and high school dropouts are wider than differences among adults of varying household income levels.

Race, Geography Less Important
Racial and geographic differences are less pronounced among computer owners. Seventy-nine percent of non-Hispanic whites own a computer, compared to 70% of Hispanics and 67% of non-Hispanic blacks.

There is even less difference in computer ownership levels among urban (77%), suburban (79%) and rural (70%) adults. Interestingly, rural residents are just as likely as non-rural residents to own a desktop computer (56% of rural residents and 61% of non-rural residents do so) but are significantly less likely than non-rural dwellers to own a laptop computer (39% vs. 55%).

More Adults Own Mobile Phones than Computers
A higher percentage of US adults owns a mobile phone than owns a computer, according to other data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew data indicates that 85% of Americans now own a cell phone.

Cell phone ownership rates among young adults have reached 96% of 18-to-29 year olds. Meanwhile, three-quarters (76%) of Americans own either a desktop or laptop computer. Since 2006, laptop ownership has grown dramatically (from 30% to 52%) while desktop ownership has declined slightly.

About the Data: These findings are based on a survey of 3,001 American adults (ages 18 and older) conducted between August 9 and September 13, 2010.

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