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Cell-Only Population: Young and Tech Savvy

  |  May 16, 2006   |  Comments

The 7 to 9 percent of the population who opt for a cell phone instead of a landline skews younger, less affluent.

Americans without landline subscriptions, who rely on cell phones as their primary line of communications, tend to be younger, less affluent, single, and more liberal. That's according to "The Cell Phone Challenge to Survey Research," a report released by The Pew Research Center and based on a survey conducted in association with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, The Associated Press, and AOL.

Seven to nine percent of Americans don't have home phone lines and use their cell phones as a primary phone. Just under half (48 percent) of cell-only respondents are under 30. Thirty-five percent are 30 to 49. About 55 percent of cell-only respondents are men, and 46 percent are women.

A larger number of those without a landline are single: 71 percent compared to 29 percent of cell-only respondents who are married. The cohort relying on cell phones also tends to rent. Twenty-four percent of wireless-only users own their home, compared to 65 percent who don't. The group also includes a higher proportion of minorities. Fourteen percent of cell-only users are Hispanic; the minority group makes up only 6 percent of landline users.

The landline group carries a higher proportion of college graduates (36 percent) than cell-only (28 percent). Thirty-three percent of cell-only users say they have some college, compared to 24 percent of landline subscribers, suggesting a heavy reliance on cell phones among current college students.

More than half (53 percent) of cell-only households have family incomes of under $30,000, compared to 25 percent of the landline sample.

Although the survey singles out respondents who only have cell phones, it also looks at predisposition to the use of land-based lines or cell phone lines when making calls. Of the respondents contacted on their cell phones, a majority (73 percent) have both land and cell phone accounts. Of that group, 62 percent make more calls on their cell phones. Those contacted on a landline who also have a cell phone use the landline 48 percent of the time, compared to their cell phone for 42 percent of calls.

A number of landline users surveyed said they are considering opting out of their commitment. Twenty-three percent of landline users are considering the switch. Fifty-five percent are not likely to give up their landline in favor of a cell phone. Those considering a change skew younger; 40 percent of those considering dropping their landline service are under 30, versus the 19 percent who are over 30.

The report addresses a concern that cell-only users won't be able to participate in opinion polls and other telephone-based surveys.

In terms of participation in traditional telephone surveys for political purposes, the cell-only population who drop out of participation minimally affect results. When cell-only respondents were included in a telephone poll among a standard landline sample, the overall results of the poll differed by about one percentage point on any of nine key political questions.

Cell-only users tend to be more positive toward computers and technology. This group is even more positive than those cell phone users who still pay for a landline. One caveat is that cell-only users are limited to the type of Internet connection available. Cell-only users are less likely to subscribe to Internet service using a DSL or dial-up line due to the lack of a landline in the home.

A random digit dial survey was fielded to 1,503 U.S. adults. In the sampling, 752 were contacted on a conventional landline, and 751 were contacted on a cell phone. Within the group contacted on their cell phones, 200 (27 percent) said their cell phones were their only phones. The interviews were conducted from March 8 to March 28 of this year, and the time it took respondents to answer the survey was about 11 minutes.

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Enid Burns

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