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How Digital Behavior Differs Among Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers

Examining mobile, social and digital video activity among boomers, Gen X and millennials

While internet usage is nearly ubiquitous in the US, mobile phone and mobile internet usage are taking a far greater role in digital activity among consumers of all ages—and uptake is poised for further growth.

eMarketer estimates that overall, 75.7% of the population goes online at least monthly, and penetration is even higher among younger demographic groups.

Among Gen Xers, for example—defined as people born between 1965 and 1980—88.8% were monthly internet users as of December 2012, according to eMarketer estimates. Gen Xers are also highly connected on the go, with nearly 95% using mobile phones, and 60.3% of that group using smartphones. In 2012, 38.4 million Gen Xers, or 62.2% of Gen X mobile users, used the mobile internet at least monthly. That accounts for three in 10 mobile internet users in the US.

Gen X internet users are avid consumers of online content. They typically use social networking sites on at least a monthly basis (74.5% of Gen X web users did so in 2012), and nearly two-thirds used Facebook in particular (65.6%). Growth in these areas, as in internet usage as a whole, is relatively flat due to market saturation. Twitter, however, reached only 14.7% of Gen X internet users at the end of last year, eMarketer estimates, and usage is growing quickly, expected to reach 19.5% of this audience by 2017.

Digital video is even more popular among Gen X internet users than social networking, with 78.7% downloading or streaming video online at least once per month.

Millennials take online activity up a notch—though on mobile their profile is very similar to that of Gen Xers: 92.3% used a mobile phone in 2012, among whom 63.2% used the mobile web and slightly fewer used smartphones.

Millennials have the highest social networking penetration of any generation, and the highest Facebook and Twitter use rates to match. Though Twitter started out with a somewhat older audience, millennials now make up more than half of all US users, and will hover around that point for the next several years. They also account for about four in 10 digital video viewers.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, do not reach quite such high levels of activity as their younger counterparts, but they aren’t far behind. Nearly eight in 10, or 59.9 million baby boomers, were regular internet users in 2012—and they were even more likely to use mobile phones, though mobile internet and smartphone uptake were slow compared to other groups.

They have also not taken up social networking to the same degree as younger web users, but 57.6% of internet users did use the services in 2012, including more than half who used Facebook. This meant baby boomers accounted for more than one in five social network users and about the same share of Facebook users in 2012.

Digital video is even more popular than social sites with boomers. Nearly six in 10 boomer internet users downloaded or streamed video at least monthly in 2012, though growth has already begun to flatten.

eMarketer forms its estimates of internet and mobile usage and digital activity levels based on the analysis of survey and traffic data from research firms and regulatory agencies, historical trends and demographic adoption trends.


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