Although not as tech savvy as other Demographic groups, Baby Boomers spend more online and on technology.

Posted on September 23, 2010


As always, Forrester research has come out with a great report that shows generational adoption gaps in technology. Of note is that mobile continues to be a driver of technology adoption.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. The generation gap of technology adoption between younger and older Americans is widening, spurred on by Gen Y’s rapid integration of mobile and social behaviors, according to the largest annual survey of Americans’ technology adoption and attitudes by Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR). “The State Of Consumers And Technology Benchmark 2010” report is a graphical analysis of Forrester’s North American Consumer Technographics® Benchmark mail survey of nearly 43,000 consumers in both the US and Canada. Now in its 13th year, the study is the largest and longest-running survey of consumers and technology in the world. With more than 1,450 data points and responses about nearly 500 North American brands, the Benchmark Survey is a valuable resource for Market Research professionals’ product planning and go-to-market strategies.

“The one area where Boomers are ahead of the technology curve is on the amount of money they spend on everything from telecom monthly fees to online purchases,” said Jacqueline Anderson, Forrester analyst and author of the report.

In fact, Boomers were the only generation to spend, on average, more than $600 online in the past three months. To boot, they spent an average of $850 on their last PC purchase, while every other generation spent less than $800. Now this pattern is similar to the rise of eCommerce in the 90’s.

Meanwhile, while Gen Yers — ages 18 to 30 — lead adoption of almost every online behavior, Gen Xers — ages 31 to 40 — are now a close rival. Indeed, Gen Xers use digital applications as a functional extension of their lives.

Boomers — ages 45 to 65 — and Seniors — ages 66 and older — are more reserved in their adoption of technologies and digital behaviors, but do in fact adopt technologies that play a role in pre-established behaviors.

Overall, Gen Yers and Gen Xers outpace Boomers and Seniors on almost every technology-related front.

“The headline is simple,” said Anderson. “The technology curve continues, but there continues to be a generation gap.”

Indeed, whether it’s the 88% of Gen Yers who own a cell phone, or the 31% of Gen Xers reading ratings and reviews online, “these generations are setting the example of how future digitally native generations will live,” Anderson added.

Gen Yers use digital channels to facilitate the social aspects of their lives, as almost two-thirds update or maintain a profile on a social networking site. Those on the younger end of the Gen Y age spectrum don’t remember a social life without a mobile phone, at 88%, and certainly don’t remember a time when they couldn’t plan a social activity via email or text. Indeed, 90% of Gen Yers use email, and 85% of Gen Y mobile owners send or receive SMS texts at least monthly.

Gen Xers, meanwhile, are the masters of maximizing the functional benefits of technology. Both Gen Xers and Gen Yers spend about 17 hours online a week, but Gen Xers have mastered the art of using digital tools in a more functional manner, especially if it can help their household.

Among Gen Xers, 26% regularly use the Internet as an information source on food and cooking, and 61% use it for news. When it comes to their PCs, 65% of Gen Xers use them to manage personal photos, and 53% send or receive photos by email at least once a month.

Boomers remain middle of the road on technology adoption. Both Younger Boomers — ages 45 to 54 — and Older Boomers — ages 55 to 65 — fall behind the younger generations in terms of almost anything technology-related: from the number of devices they own (on average, seven for Boomers and nine for Gen Yers and Gen Xers) to the amount of time they spend on the Internet.

Finally, Seniors occupy the fringes of a digital nation, according to Forrester. These consumers have seen the biggest changes to the digital world around them. Seniors can remember a time when TVs weren’t even a part of the household, and now more than 40% of these households have an HDTV.

While Seniors are still the most likely to get their local newspaper (80% do), about one in five turn to the Internet for news on business- and finance-related topics, and almost one-quarter use the Internet as a resource on travel. Technology adoption for Seniors isn’t necessarily about adopting the latest and greatest gadget, but instead, finding ways to use technology to accent things they’re already doing.

Overall, Forrester has seen digital technologies taking an increasingly pivotal role in consumers’ lives. Even HDTVs, which just two years ago were a technology reserved for the wealthy and tech-savvy, now grace the walls of 50% of US households.

This year, Forrester used a generational lens to analyze the 30,064 US-based heads of household and 37,226 US-based individual respondents to its North American Technographics Benchmark Survey.

The report provides a generational overview of US consumers’ demographics, behaviors, and technology attitudes. Survey results were segmented by Gen Y (ages 18 to 30), Gen X (ages 31 to 44), Younger Boomers (ages 45 to 54), Older Boomers (ages 55 to 65), and Seniors (ages 66 and older). While Americans’ adoption of a digital lifestyle continues, Gen Y and Gen X outpace Baby Boomers and Seniors on almost everything technology related.

This year, the rapid rise in mobile adoption is particularly noteworthy. Among Gen Y and Gen X, 23 percent of consumers own a smartphone, while 17 percent of Americans of all ages own one of these devices (up from 11 percent one year ago). Gen Y is particularly mobile savvy: 85 percent of consumers in this demographic regularly send or receive SMS/text messages (compared with 57 percent of all US consumers over the age of 18); 27 percent of Gen Yers access social networks on their mobile devices (compared with 14 percent of all US consumers); and 37 percent of Gen Yers access the mobile Internet (compared with 23 percent of all US consumers).

“The digital attitudes and behaviors that Gen Y and Gen X are cultivating now will follow them as they age and will only be multiplied in the generations that follow them,” said Forrester Research Consumer Insights Analyst Jacqueline Anderson. “Gen Y in particular is living and breathing a digital social life. In almost every online or mobile behavior, Gen Y leads the adoption curve. About two-thirds update or maintain a profile on a social networking site, which for them is a way to facilitate all social aspects of their lives.”

“On the other hand, Gen X is the master of maximizing the functional benefits of technology. In many activities, Gen Xers closely rival Gen Yers in adoption. For example, both spend about 17 hours online a week. But Gen Xers have mastered the art of using digital tools in a more functional manner, especially if it supports their family’s needs,” said Anderson.