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Study: Sizing up the Online Generation Gap

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Internet users take part in different activities based on their age group. That's according to a report, "Generations Online in 2009" released by Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Each age group, whether it's Generation Y or Baby Boomers, are all active on the Internet but do different activities. Generation Y, those between ages 18 and 32, comprise 26 percent of the adult population and 30 percent of the Internet-using population. Among the generational age groups, this is the largest.

Generation Y is also the most social. This group is most likely to use the Internet to play games (50 percent); watch videos online (72 percent); send instant messages (59 percent); use a social networking site (67 percent); create a profile on a social networking site (60 percent); read a blog (43 percent); create a blog (20 percent); or visit a virtual world (10 percent).

"Generation Y is the most well-rounded," said Susannah Fox, associate director at Pew Internet. "They are the most likely to have access to the most online technologies most of their adult lives. That means they probably can't imagine a world without these online activities. They probably never had a chance to form habits like older generations, and probably seems natural."

Social networks are high on the list of activities of Generation Y, a trend cited in an earlier report released by Pew Internet.

Generation X, defined as those between the ages of 33 and 44, share some similarities with Gen Y. Like Gen Y, people in this age group are likely to play games online (38 percent); watch videos online (57 percent); get job information (55 percent); send instant messages (38 percent); use social networking sites (36 percent); create a social networking site profile (29 percent); read a blog (34 percent); and create a blog (10 percent). Where those in the 33 to 44 age group stand out is in research.

Yet, this cohort is more likely than Gen Y to get information on health (82 percent); buy online (80 percent); bank online (65 percent); or visit government Web sites (64 percent) than other groups.

"Generation Y is most likely to have sampled most of what's available online, but generation X seems to be in a life stage that gives them the opportunity to use the Internet experience that they have," Fox said. "They're a pretty wired generation, plus they're at the point online where they're starting to manage some capital."

The population between 70 and 75 years old has grown the most. In a 2005 Pew Internet study, 26 percent were online. At this time 45 percent of the age group is now online.

"People are aging into this group," Fox said. "People are hanging onto their Internet connection through their life stages. We see the saturation start to seep into our older populations."

E-mail is heavily used across all age groups, though Internet users ages 55 and older rely on the medium more heavily. Ninety percent of younger Boomers (ages 45 to 54) and older Boomers (ages 55 to 63) are equally likely to use e-mail online. The Silent Generation, defined as those between 64 to 72) uses e-mail (91 percent), while 79 percent of the G.I. Generation, ages 73 and older, uses e-mail.

Search, watching videos, news, and travel are also universal categories across all age groups.

"This report can give some nuance to the stereotypes we hold about generations and online activities," Fox said. "Some of these stereotypes hold true. It's pretty likely that teens with Internet access will go on social networking sites. It's also true that if you're in your 70s it's less likely you will have Internet access and will stay in the shallow waters of e-mail and search. Then there are those people in the middle, who are also doing interesting things."

Pew Internet conducted a series of telephone interviews in August 2008 of adult Internet users to compile the data for the study.


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