Internet Statistics & Internet Penetration Demographics

According to the Pew Reports on the Internet and American Life, the general statistics of users of the Internet break down this way: "the average American Internet user is young, 'European-American', employed, well-educated, affluent and suburban."

This represents the so-called "digital divide" between Internet users and the rest of the country. The survey was taken in February 2004, using a base of 1,371 Internet users. (European-American is the politically correct term for people whose ancestors got off the boats from Europe, instead of the boats from Asia or Africa.) As for the rest of the world, the Pew Report has determined that Americans account for almost 50% of all Internet use.

Internet Penetration Demographics

Some of the statistics break down this way:

Percentage of U.S. adults in each group who use the Internet: 

Men - 65%, Women - 61%


Gen Y (ages 18-27) 78%

Gen X (ages 28-39) 78%

Trailing Boomers (ages 40-49)

71% Leading Boomers (ages 50-58)

62% Matures (ages 59-68) 47%

After work (ages 69+) 17%

Race and Ethnicity: 

Whites - 64% Blacks - 46% Hispanics (English speaking) - 63%

Household Income: 

Less than $30,000 - 41%

$30,000 - $49,999 - 69%

$50,000 - $74,999 - 86%

$75,000+ - 89%

Community Type:

Urban - 65%

Suburban - 67%

Rural - 48%

Educational Attainment:

Less than high school - 24%

High school graduate - 54%

Some college courses - 78%

College graduate - 85%

Most-used features of the Internet:

Sending email - 91%

Using a search engine to find information - 88%

Researching a product or service before buying it - 78%

Buying a product - 66%

The Broadband Elite

Pew has published three separate reports on broadband useage and has even pinpointed a "broadband elite." The hope of some broadband providers is that deployment of a high-speed communications infrastructure will bring the telecommunications industry out of its current slump. Roughly 24 million Americans (21% of all Internet users) have high-speed connections at home.

High-speed broadband lets home users: 

Become creators and managers of online content;

Satisfy a wide range of queries for information, and;

Engage in multiple Internet activities on a daily basis.

For broadband users, this always-on connection expands the scope of their online activities and the frequency with which they do them. Some consumers have raised the concern that a lack of compelling online content, particularly in the entertainment arena, has slowed consumer uptake of broadband.

Pew's research suggests that most broadband users find plenty to do with their fast connections, especially when it comes to creating online content and performing information searches. Broadband users are as likely to go online to get job training as they are to download a video.

As habitual posters of content, they seem to desire the widest reach for what they share with the online world. As frequent searchers for information using their always-on connection, broadband users seek out the greatest range of sources to satisfy their thirst for information.

Thus, restricting portions of the Internet, which some regulatory proposals may permit, is anathema to how broadband users behave. The average Internet user with high-speed home access does 7 things online on a typical day, such as getting news, health care information, taking an online course, listening to music, or downloading files. By contrast, a dial-up user does about 3 things online during a typical day.

A home broadband connection results in more work being done at home. One-third of home broadband users are telecommuters. For that reason, 25% of all broadband users (and 58% of those who telecommute) say the Internet has led them to spend more time working at home.

For the broadband elite, the Internet itself, with all its depositories of information and outlets for creativity, is The Killer Application.

It's a fairly logical deduction that most of the capital expenditure being done on the Internet is being done by these people. You could also call them the biggest marketing niche. So who are they? What do they buy?

Well, one group is called...

The Baby Boomers

Citigroup's brokerage, Smith Barney, recently published a survey, Healthy, Wealthy and Active: The Baby Boomer in 2010.

The report concludes that:

Americans born within the years 1944 - 1962 will remain the most influential segment of the [US] population. With the oldest boomers soon facing their 60s, their mindsets and attitudes are changing...Their next dream is to be healthy, wealthy and active. However, a gap between these aspirations and reality should be a key factor driving the behavior of baby boomers.

Wealthy boomers will enjoy good incomes largely by working after retirement. Active boomers want to work, but be able to take a day off when they want, while their leisure preference is "lazily active."

Unlike their parents who grew up amid the hardships of the Depression and World War II, baby boomers today do not view a leisurely retirement as their reward for years of hard work and sacrifice. Moreover, given that the typical American is living longer than ever before, many people are likely to choose the intellectual stimulation of work over the monotony of doing nothing.

But who are the really big spenders on the Internet? Possibly, it's this group:

The Bohemian Bourgeoise 

A few years ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a book called Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, in which he described an emerging American social class he called "bohemian bourgeoise", or "bobo" for short. The book is satirical, and contains no statistics whatever, but in its entirety, tells some fundamental truths about the American upper crust.

In simplest terms, bobos are people with a lot of money who don't want to be perceived as snobs. In fact, they want to be percieved as just the opposite: hard-working, but fun-lovin' non-conformists who like to be different from the rest of the crowd. You know, like the beatniks and hippies that came before them. Consequently, Brooks frequently gives us tidbits of advice like, "Always dress one notch lower than those around you."

Let's face it: It is funny sometimes what people will do to show that they are on top of the heap, one step ahead of the game, and a member of the elite.

Bobos in Paradise purports to describe the new American "ruling class" as the one with the most buying power. (I don't know if this is true because, by the author's own admission, he uses no statistics.)

For example, bobos don't spend their money on the traditional symbols of power: limousines, jewelry, caviar, weekends on the Riviera. Instead, they'll spend a thousand dollars on a pair of professional hiking boots. Or they'll spend a small fortune building an ecologically friendly cabin in the Rockies.

Bobos deal in what Brooks calls "intellectual capital"; i.e.,ideas are as much a key to financial success as resources or venture capital. Thus, bobos are partly a cultural consequence of the Internet where the intangible world of information merges with the tangible world of money. The bobo professionals are accountants, doctors, lawyers, CEOs, college professors; i.e., anything that requires brains.

Instead of buying a huge estate with manicured lawns, they buy household utilities like expensive computer equipment, an ingeniously designed corkscrew, or an elaborate door handle. The mental powers of bobos were once focussed on organic chemistry exams or economics term papers. This has given them the ability to study and research everything they buy. (It's not surprising then that the most successful online companies have been "libraries" like Amazon, Yahoo!, Google or MSN.)

Bobos want rare gadgets that have not yet been discovered by the masses, and they comb the internet to find them. In fact, the objects that bobos collect are often reflective of Third World cultures; i.e., arts and crafts , religions and ways of life. In some circles, Native-American crafts are held in particularly high esteem. (Of course, many peoples from those cultures never went through an industrial or technological revolution, so the whole idea of bohemianism seems strange to them.)

America has changed since this book was published in 2000: the dot-com bust, the terrorist attacks, overseas outsourcing of labor, and the current debt and trade imbalance. But Brooks' observations are peculiar to a people, not a time. As you peruse the pages of eBay and Amazon, you can see that the bobo attitude is still very much with us. Maybe these people aren't part of your marketing niche, but they will certainly be affecting it.

By: Roy Troxel

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