Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, January 24, 2020
Millennials may be getting bad press for lagging in real estate and financial investments, but they’re well invested in tech devices. Millennials use the largest number of connected devices per capita, including more than the next-younger generation – GenZ. PCs are the major device for all generations, while tablets have tumbled in usage among younger adults.
This TUPdate shares a top-level view into generational differences – in their use of technology devices and their financial net worth and assets. The results are based on TUP/Technology User Profile waves from 2014 through 2019 in the US and the US Government’s Survey of Consumer Finances and estimates from the Federal Reserve Bank. The US Federal Reserve Bank made headlines earlier this year when they released the latest DFA – Distribution of Financial Accounts.
GenZ settling down faster? Or Millennials hanging on?
Each successive generation has been using more devices than the one older; however, that’s recently changed. When the first members of the GenZ generation (born 1997 and after) turned 18 in 2015, their average number of devices was the highest ever seen by any generation – 5.8 on average.
Since 2015, GenZ has bucked its elders’ trend by reducing its tech device usage faster than those slightly older. Beginning in 2017, GenZ uses fewer devices than Millennials. It’s not only that GenZ reduced use, but also that Millennials are continuing to use more than most. From 2014 through 2019, American Millennials have used 20% more devices than the average American.
Overall drop in number of devices used
The year 2015 marked a turning point for connected devices in the US, as the national average number of devices in regular use by adults began consolidation. In 2015, online Americans used an average of 4.5 devices – smartphones, tablets, PCs, and game consoles. This declined each year steadily, with the current average in 2019 being 3.8.
This widespread reduction is due to many reasons. One major factor in consolidation is what people do with their devices. Although cross-platform and browser-based apps have been available for some time, we’re seeing users stretch beyond their habitually favored devices to slowly but steadily extend activities across more than single devices. With the growth in spreading activities across devices, this, in turn, reduces the need to use as many. For example, while many would primarily use a home desktop PC for online banking, a growing number have moved their banking to their tablets or smartphones. (For more details on these shifts, please see Smartphones Rise, PCs and Printers Float, Tablets Waver – User Trends)
PC reigns as essential
PCs continue as bedrock devices for all generations. However, they are a smaller share among GenZ than among older generations. 36% of the connected devices GenZ use are PCs, and this share rises with each generation, reaching almost half (46%) of connected devices used by the Silent and earlier generations. Smartphones are a solid second device among all generations and make up between 25% to 30% of actively used devices. Game consoles rank highest among GenZ and Millennials, versus tablets for older generations. And to the extent basic cell phones are being used by anyone, they are most firmly in the hands of the oldest generation.
Tablets recede among GenZ while elders get smarter
In 2015, the mix of devices by generation was like 2019 in most respects, with several crucial differences. Among GenZ, tablets were stronger and have since then faded to be replaced by wider PC use. The Boomer generation has nearly let go of their basic cell phones and moved to smartphones. Game consoles were just as youth-oriented in 2015 as in 2019 and are continuing to be active even as each generation ages.
American Millennial Tech Wealth
Most connected devices are in the hands of Millennials. 37% of total connected devices – mobile phones, PCs, tablets, and game consoles – are in the hands of millennials – American adults born between 1981 to 1996. This is far above the tech holdings of GenX and Boomer generations.
The share of devices nationally for Millennials and Gen Xers has not shifted significantly over the last five years. The share of tech devices among Boomers, meanwhile, has dropped. Some of this reduction is due to boomers leaving the workforce and so no longer using employer-provided PCs.
Boomers and GenX are nearer to each other in size, as both are shrinking and yielding to younger generations.
Consumer Durables by generation
Looking more broadly beyond tech devices shows a similar but more delayed pattern. As Federal Government economists measure consumer durables, tech devices are only a fraction. Millennials show a growing share of American consumer durables as their numbers grow, but a much smaller share than their share of tech devices. Also, Baby Boomers and Silent and Earlier have a relatively larger share of consumer durables than tech devices.
Millennials are showing stronger and growing participation in the economy. Their share of consumer durables is still smaller than other generations. However, its growth is on par. Despite having higher debt levels than other generational groups, Millennials are continuing to buy tech and durable products.
The Federal Reserve Bank develops this information from the ongoing Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) and Financial Accounts of the United States. (Note: The Fed does not yet include GenZ in this data.)
Net Financial Wealth by Generation
In one of the most widely cited measures from the Fed’s results, net financial wealth, Millennials have the lowest financial net worth. As Americans born between 1981 and 1996, Millennials have less net financial net wealth than any other generation. Net worth accounts for the value of assets above liabilities.
Just as economic mobility doesn’t shift quickly, neither do habits around technology usage nor buying. Looking ahead, I expect Millennials to continue to lead in the number of tech devices used and GenZ to have slightly less. As to device types, game consoles will continue to skew younger and are unlikely to reach much of a larger share of user’s devices than today’s levels. PCs will continue to be the major device among older adults, although falling out of top usage among GenZ somewhat.
TUPdates feature analysis of current or essential technology topics. The research results showcase the TUP/Technology User Profile study, MetaFacts’ survey of a representative sample of online adults profiling the full market’s use of technology products and services. The current wave of TUP is TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, which is TUP’s 38th annual. TUPdates may also include results from previous waves of TUP.
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