Cell Phone Usage Continues to Increase in the USA

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Note -- this news article is more than a year old.

According to a Harris Interactive survey the use of cell phones is increasing and traditional landline telephone coverage is decreasing. In fact one in five US adults do not have a landline and only 79 percent currently do. One in seven adults now uses only cell phones. Furthermore while the use of cell phones among younger segments of the population has been widely reported the technology is becoming increasingly popular among older populations as well. Remarkably about half of U.S. adults who only use a cell phone are 30 or over. One third of 18 to 29 year olds only use a cell phone or the Internet for making phone calls.

These are some of the results of a special analysis of four surveys conducted online between October 2007 and January 2008 by Harris Interactive. In total 9,132 adults were surveyed. This data was then weighted where necessary to bring it into line with the total population.

Specifically, the research finds that:

  • Almost nine in ten (89%) of adults have a wireless or cell phone. This represents a significant increase from 77 percent in October - December 2006 when The Harris Poll conducted a similar analysis;
  • Almost eight in ten (79%) adults say that they have a landline phone. This is down slightly from 81 percent in 2006;
  • About one is six (15%) of adults use the Internet, sometimes referred to as VoIP of Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol, to make telephone calls. This is basically unchanged from 16 percent in 2006.

Three-quarters (75%) of U.S. adults are using multiple approaches to making telephone calls. This is a substantial increase from 67 percent in October - December 2006.

  • Fourteen percent (14%) are only using their cell phone (up from 11% in 2006).
  • Just 9 percent (down from 18% in 2006) of U.S. adults only use a landline phone.
  • Six percent (6%) are only using a cell phone and VoIP.

The Demographic Profile of "Cell Phone Only" Users:

Consistent with their findings last year, those who use a cell phone as their only telephone service tend to be younger than the general population - in fact, about half (49%) are between the ages of 18 and 29. This percentage has decreased from 2006, when 18 to 29 year olds made up 55 percent of the cell phone only population, as older individuals become somewhat more comfortable with using a cell phone as their only type of telephone service.

Additionally, as compared to the general population, cell phone only users are:

  • Less likely to be age 40 or older (29% versus 60% of the general population)
  • More likely to have at least some college education (60% versus 53% of the general population)
  • More likely to be male (57% versus 48% of the general population)
  • More likely to have household income less than $15,000 (16% versus 9% of the general population)
  • Less likely to have household income of $75,000 or more (28% versus 37% of the general population)

Changes in the demographic profile of cell phone only users, compared to 2006

The profile of those who use a cell phone as their only telephone service remained quite stable compared to last year. However, there were some minor changes, which are as follows:

  • 18 to 29 year olds account for a smaller proportion of this group compared to last year (49%, compared to 55% last year). This does not mean that 18 to 29 year olds are less likely than in 2006 to use a cell phone only. In fact, the incidence of cell phone only usage among 18 to 29 year olds actually increased slightly (32% of 18 to 29 year olds use a cell phone as their only telephone service, compared to 26% last year). It simply means that the cell phone only usage also increased among older individuals, resulting in that group now accounting for a greater proportion of the cell phone only population than it did in 2006;
  • Those with household income of $75,000 or more now account for a greater proportion of cell phone only users compared to 2006 (28%, compared to 22% in 2006);

Comparing The Harris Poll to National Health Interview Survey

The Centers for Disease Control recently released the preliminary results from its January to June 2007 National Health Interview Survey. This large, respected survey is conducted in-person continuously throughout the year to collect information on health status, health-related behaviors and health-care utilization. In addition, this survey includes information about household telephones and wireless or cell phone usage.

Even though The Harris Poll was conducted using a different method (online) than the NHIS (in person), the results are statistically similar on many measures. Note that:

  • The NHIS found that 13 percent of U.S. adults used only a cell phone. The Harris Poll finds the figure to be a similar 14% percent;
  • The NHIS and The Harris Poll found statistically similar findings with regard to the incidence of cell phone only usage among most, but not all, demographic groups.

The two studies diverge in their findings with regard to some groups:

  • The Harris Poll found the incidence of cell phone usage among those with college degrees or higher education to be 14 percent, whereas the NHIS found this incidence to be 11 percent;
  • The Harris Poll found the incidence of cell phone only usage among Black/Non Hispanic respondents to be 9%, whereas the NHIS found this incidence to be 14 percent;
  • The Harris Poll found the incidence of cell phone only usage among students to be 30 percent, whereas the NHIS found this incidence to be 21 percent.

So What?

Those who use a cell phone as their only telephone service account for just 14 percent of the total population of US adults, and this proportion is on the rise. Moreover, this group has distinct demographic characteristics. In particular, 18 to 29 year olds - an important demographic group for many companies - account for about half of those who indicate using cell phones as their only telephone service, reducing the likelihood of reaching this group via traditional telephone surveys. While these young adults continue to be the group most likely to use a cell phone as their only phone, older adults, and those with household income of $75,000 or more, now account for greater proportions of those who use a cell phone only, compared to 2006.

It will be important to continue to monitor the size and demographic make-up of the cell phone only population in order to make knowledgeable choices about the most appropriate mode and sample sources for survey research, particularly when 18 to 29 year olds are a key component.

There are two implications to this research.

First, new technologies are often first adopted by younger segments. However, the rapid adoption rates we are seeing here will likely reshape the entire communications landscape within the next decade. Second, the fact that so many 18 to 29 years are only using cell phones and the Internet has important implications for companies and other organizations that are trying to communicate with this important segment of the population. This also hold true with those who conduct survey research who have relied on traditional methods (i.e., telephone landlines) for reaching this group. The survey research and marketing industries need to recognize that the Internet and cell phones, not landlines, are likely to be the wave of the future for contacting this age group.

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