Mobile Internet Use on the Rise, Led by African-Americans, Latinos

Wireless Internet use, whether on a laptop or cell phone, continues to rise in the United States, according to the latest Pew report. African-Americans and Latinos, in particular, are driving the increased use of data applications on cell phones.

More Americans than ever before are now wirelessly online, the Pew Internet & American Life Project revealed in a July report.

The study found 47 percent of all adults now using a laptop, with a WiFi connection or PC card, to go online wirelessly-up from 39 percent in April 2009 - and 40 percent (up from 32 percent in 2009) to be surfing the Web, e-mailing and instant messaging on their mobile phones.

In total, 59 percent of American adults are now wirelessly online, up from 51 percent in 2009.

In addition, while cell phone ownership has held steady, says the report, cell phone Internet use is increasing, thanks to three groups in particular: 18- to 29-year-olds; adults with low levels of income and education; and African-Americans and Latinos, who are generally making better use of all of the features on their phones.

Compared to a year ago, more Americans are now using their phones to take pictures, send and receive text messages, play games, access the Internet, play music and-showing the biggest increase, with a rise of 15 percent points, from 19 to 34 percent-record video. In every instance, however, the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics using various mobile data applications was greater than that of whites.

While 33 percent of whites reported using their phone to access the Internet, 46 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanics said the same. Thirty percent of whites use their phone to send and receive e-mail, compared to 41 percent of American Americans and 47 percent of Latinos, and 29 percent of whites use their phone to play games, versus 51 percent of African-Americans and 46 percent of Latinos.

Overall, the mean number of cell phone activities performed by whites was 3.8, compared to 5.4 for African-Americans and 5.8 for Latinos. Partly accounting for this variance, said the study, is laptop use and household income.

The 8-point jump from 51 percent to 59 percent in wireless Internet use between the years was reflected across a number of demographics-with 18- to 29-year-olds and individuals with household incomes below $30,000 showing the greatest increases in use-though it remained flat for a small number of groups, including older Latinos.

"These higher rates of growth in wireless internet use by whites and African-Americans compared with Latinos are largely a function of laptop adoption," states the report. "Rates of laptop ownership have grown dramatically among African-Americans in the last year (from 34 percent in 2009 to 51 percent in 2010) and moderately among whites (from 47 percent to 55 percent). By contrast, laptop ownership among English-speaking Latinos has remained flat over that time (54 percent of Latinos currently own a laptop computer, compared with 56 percent who did so in 2009)."

The study adds, "The affluent and well-educated have higher overall levels of wireless use due to their much higher rates of ownership and use of laptop computers." The demographic most dramatically sidestepping the wireless Internet trend, said the report, were respondents ages 65 and older. Among this senior crowd, 24 percent do not go online wirelessly, and 56 percent don't go online at all. The Pew study was based on telephone interviews conducted between April 29 and May 30, with 2,252 adults ages 18 years and older. It's reported to have an error rating of 2.4 percent.