What you need to know

Over a relatively short period of time, internet use has steadily evolved from a mere curiosity for many, and an interest for only the tech savvy, to a mainstream tool for news, research, communication, transactions, and entertainment.

The propensity of consumers to view the internet as their go-to source for an increasing array of daily activities, and spend more of their free time online, is the result of not only the proliferation of internet-capable devices (mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, in particular) and internet connectivity, but also from improving technology that has increased data transfer speed. Easy connection from an increasing number of access points, faster downloads, and more sophisticated content all combine to make logging onto the internet part of consumers’ daily routines. As a result, many are, indeed, “living” online.

This report explores the external factors that increase online use, consumer attitudes and motivations for going online and their typical online habits, and how this differs across key demographics. Readers of this report will have a deeper understanding of how online content impacts offline behavior and how different demographic groups incorporate the internet into their daily lives.


This is the first report Mintel has produced on this topic. Readers may also be interested in the analysis presented in Mintel’s Social Networking—U.S., May 2012, Tablets—U.S., April 2012, Online and Mobile Shopping—U.S., March 2012, Media Usage and Online Behavior—U.S., October 2011, as well as Mobile and Home Broadband—U.S., April 2011.

The purpose of this report is to understand the extent to which consumers integrate the internet into their daily lives. This report also offers a topical coverage of various categories of website use, including: news, transactional, entertainment, social networking, reference (health, education, information), and travel/leisure.

Value figures throughout this report are at retail selling prices (rsp) excluding sales tax unless otherwise stated.

Data sources

Consumer survey data

For the purposes of this report, Mintel commissioned exclusive consumer research through Toluna USA to explore consumer activity/attitudes and behaviors toward the internet. Mintel was responsible for the survey design, data analysis, and reporting. Fieldwork was conducted in April 2012 among a sample of 2,000 adults aged 18+ with access to the internet.

Mintel selects survey respondents so that they are proportionally balanced to the entire U.S. adult population based on the key demographics of gender, age, household income, and region. Mintel also slightly oversamples, relative to the population, respondents that are Hispanic or black to ensure an adequate representation of these groups in our survey results. Please note that our surveys are conducted online and in English only. Hispanics who are not online and/or do not speak English are not included in our survey results.

Mintel has also analyzed data from Experian Simmons Consumer Research, using the Simmons National Consumer Study (NCS) and the Simmons National Hispanic Consumer Study (NHCS).

The NCS/NHCS was carried out during October 2010-November 2011 and the results are based on the sample of 24,054 adults aged 18+, with results weighted to represent the U.S. adult population. The report also draws on the following older Experian Simmons Adult Studies:

  • NCS/NHCS: Fall 2005 Adult Full Year—POP (January 2005-October 2005)

  • NCS/NHCS: Fall 2007 Adult Full Year—POP (January 2007-November 2007)

  • NCS/NHCS: Fall 2009 Adult Full Year—POP (November 2008-December 2009)

  • NCS/NHCS: Fall 2010 Adult 6 Month—POP (April 2010-December 2010)

  • NCS/NHCS: Fall 2011 Adult 6 Month—POP (April 2011-November 2011)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2005 Adult 6 Month—POP (January 2005-May 2005)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2006 Adult 6 Month—POP (January 2006-June 2006)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2007 Adult 6 Month—POP (January 2007-June 2007)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2008 Adult 6 Month—POP (October 2007-June 2008)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2009 Adult 6 Month—POP (November 2008-June 2009)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2010 Adult 6 Month—POP (October 2009-June 2010)

  • NCS/NHCS: Spring 2011 Adult 6 Month—POP (October 2010-June 2011)

  • NCS/NHCS: Summer 2008 Adult 6 Month—POP (January 2008-September 2008)

  • NCS/NHCS: Summer 2009 Adult 6 Month—POP (February 2009-September 2009)

  • NCS/NHCS: Summer 2010 Adult 6 Month—POP (February 2010-September 2010)

  • NCS/NHCS: Summer 2011 Adult 6 Month—POP (January 2011-September 2011)

While race and Hispanic origin are separate demographic characteristics, Mintel often compares them to each other. Please note that the responses for race (white, black, Asian, Native American, or other race) will overlap those that also are Hispanic, because Hispanics can be of any race.

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Abbreviations and terms


The following abbreviations are used in this report:

3G Third-generation cellular network
4G Fourth-generation cellular network
CAGR Compounded Annual Growth Rate
DSL Digital Subscriber Line (a medium for transferring data over regular phone lines and can be used to connect to the internet)
e-commerce Electronic commerce
EUMV Estimated Unique Monthly Viewers
F-commerce Facebook commerce
IAB Internet Advertising Board
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Data capacity and hierarchy are discussed within this report, including:

1 Bit Binary Digit. The basic capacity of information in computing and telecommunication; a bit represents either 1 or 0 (one or zero) only.
8 Bits 1 Byte
1,000 Bits Kb 1 Kilobit
1,000 Bytes KB 1 Kilobyte
1,000 Kilobytes MB 1 Megabyte
1,000 Megabytes GB 1 Gigabyte
1,000 Gigabytes TB 1 Terabyte
1,000 Terabytes PB 1 Petabyte
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Generations are discussed within this report, and they are defined as:

World War II The generation born in 1932 or before. In 2012, members of this generation are aged 80 or older.
Swing Generation The generation born between 1933 and 1945. In 2012, members of the Swing Generation are between the ages of 67 and 79.
Baby Boomers The generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2012, Baby Boomers are between the ages of 48 and 66.
Generation X The generation born between 1965 and 1976. In 2012, Generation Xers are between the ages of 36 and 47.
Millennials* The generation born between 1977 and 1994. In 2012, Millennials are between the ages of 18 and 35.
Matrix Generation** The generation born from 1995 to present. In 2012, Matrices are aged 17 or younger.

* also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers

** previously known as Post-Millennials

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