Teen digital mavens have been quick to adapt their web habits to mobile devices, and now some are even using their phones as their primary internet access point.
According to a September 2012 study of teens and technology conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 95% of youths aged 12 to 17 had access to the internet, 74% had mobile access to the internet (i.e., via phone or tablet), and 25% accessed the internet primarily through a mobile device.
Despite a very high baseline of internet penetration, some disparities nevertheless emerged: Male teens were more likely to use the internet than female teens (97% vs. 93%); rural teens were more likely to access the internet than urban teens (99% vs. 94%); and white teens were more likely than nonwhite teens to go online (99% vs. 92% among black teens, 88% among Hispanic teens).
Of those teens who had access to the internet via a mobile device, the demographics of access were largely similar to what was found among internet users as a whole. One exception to this: females were slightly more likely to have mobile internet access than males, despite the fact that males were more likely to have internet access overall.
When Pew studied which teens accessed the internet primarily via mobile, demographic patterns of internet use flipped entirely. In total, 25% of teens said they accessed the internet mostly through mobile, but females were far more likely than males to do so, at 29%, compared with 20% for males. Girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were the most likely to be predominantly mobile internet users—34% said they were vs. 24% of boys the same age.
Similarly, 33% of black teens accessed the internet primarily via mobile compared with 24% of white teens. And 30% of teens in households with annual income under $30,000 did so, compared with 14% of teens in households earning $50,000 to $74,999, and 24% of teens in households earning $75,000 or more.
While cell phone use has held relatively steady among teens, smartphone use is very much on the rise and contributing to increased mobile internet use. Pew found that 23% of teens had a smartphone in July 2011. As of September 2012, 37% did.
The importance of mobile internet access to low-income teens can be seen in smartphone ownership trends as well. One might expect teens from families in the lowest income bracket to be the least likely to have a cell phone, and that would be correct—just 69% do, compared with 78% of teens overall. But when it comes to smartphones, teens from households earning under $30,000 were actually more likely to use one than teens in households earning between $30,000 and $74,999—only teens from the highest-income households were more likely to use a smartphone.
Evidence suggests that low-income teens are more likely to own smartphones because they are more likely to need to use them in lieu of computers. Pew found that 73% of teens in the lowest income bracket owned a computer, compared with 80% of teens overall.
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