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Smartphone Usage Among Millennials Varies Globally

It is nearly 100% among internet users in Nordic countries, but lower in other countries, including China

August 25, 2016 | Demographics | Mobile

Generational differences are a fertile source of conventional wisdom, correct or otherwise. For instance, there is now a common assumption that while older folks differ greatly from country to country—stuck in the parochial habits with which they grew up—millennials are a cosmopolitan cohort, a generation without borders. And because millennials came of age with digital technology, there is the further assumption that they are largely the same everywhere in their digital behavior, as explored in a new eMarketer report, “Global Millennials 2016: Gauging the Digital Behavior of Young Adults Around the World” (eMarketer PRO customers only).

Smartphone Owner Penetration in Select Nordic Countries, by Age, Jan 2016 (% of internet users in each group)

No doubt there are millennials who regard themselves more as global Smartphonians than as Brazilians or Belgians or Indonesians. Nonetheless, when we sift through data on the digital activity of young adults around the world, differences from place to place are abundant.

When it comes to smartphones, millennials are more likely than their elders to want a smartphone device, and more likely than teens to have the option of buying one. But usage is more common in some places than others. In part, the disparities reflect different degrees of prosperity in different countries, though there are variations even among the richer countries.

Penetration for this pricey device is high in Western Europe, as one would expect given that region’s strong consumer purchasing power. For the UK, eMarketer estimates that 94.4% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 93.1% of 25- to 34-year-olds will be smartphone users this year. eMarketer’s estimates for Germany are slightly lower, at 90.1% for the younger and 88.4% for the older segment. Likewise with France: 89.5% for the younger, 84.3% for the older.

Penetration is exceptionally high in the Nordic countries. In Buzzador polling in January 2016 among internet users in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, nearly all millennials identified themselves as smartphone owners.

Besides the UK, smartphone penetration is strong elsewhere in the Anglosphere. For Canada, eMarketer estimates that 93.6% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 93.4% of those 25 to 34 will be smartphone users this year. For the US, 92.1% of the younger and 91.8% of the older millennials are in that category. And in Australia, polling by Bronto Software and Ipsos of internet users in January 2016 identified 97% of the 18-to-24 cohort and 95% of those 25 to 34 as smartphone owners.

Smartphone User Penetration in China, by Age, 2014-2020 (% of mobile phone users)

Wider variations emerge in other parts of the world, including big gaps between younger and older millennials. In Japan, a December 2015 poll of internet users by ThinkAgent found 61.5% of 20- to 24-year-old respondents had an Android phone and 30.8% had an iPhone. For 25- to 29-year-olds, the figures were 41.7% and 33.3%. In China, eMarketer estimates mobile phone user penetration rates in 2016 will be around 90% for younger and older millennials. But the proportion of mobile users who are smartphone users will be lower—a consequence of lagging mobile internet development in rural China.

eMarketer PRO customers can view the full report here.

Get more on this topic with the full eMarketer report, “Global Millennials 2016: Gauging the Digital Behavior of Young Adults Around the World.”

eMarketer releases over 200 analyst reports per year, which are only available to eMarketer PRO customers.

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