Internet Edges Out Family Time More Than TV Time

Internet use cuts into American TV consumption significantly less than it affects average time spent with family and friends, according to a recent study by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (SIQSS).

“We were very interested to discover that the increase in Internet use over the last 10 years has eaten into television viewing less than expected,” said Norman Nie, director of SIQQS. “Time online seems to come more out of family discretionary time.”

Still, the researchers found the average Internet user spends 3 hours per day online, almost double the 1.7 hours the average respondent spends watching television.

Data were collected from a representative sample of 4,839 American respondents between the ages of 18 and 64 in June 2004.

For the average respondent, an hour of time online reduces the amount of time spent with family more than twice as much (23.5 minutes) as it limits daily TV viewing (10 minutes). This amounts to 70 minutes less time spent per day with family, versus c. 30 minutes less time watching television. The study also found the average surfer gets 8.5 minutes less sleep per day due to time spent online.

The report contains a broad array of additional demographic information. Other key findings include:

  • Approximately a third of all online time occurs at work.

  • The Web is primarily a communication tool. Roughly 57 percent of time spent online is devoted to email, instant messaging, or chat rooms.
  • The remaining 43 percent of time is divided between game playing (20.3 of the 43 percent); surfing (15 percent); and shopping (10 percent).
  • Spam accounts for five minutes of every hour spent online, which translates into 10 8-hour workdays per year.
  • Unemployed Internet users spend more time online than other users.
  • Overall, online use doesn’t differ by gender. However, female respondents on average use email, instant messaging, and social networking more than men, who spend more time on browsing, in newsgroups and in chat rooms.
  • Roughly 20 percent of Internet users communicate with someone they’ve never met in person; one out of eight communicate with someone they first met online.

The study also found the more educated an individual, the more likely that person is to be online. Over 40 percent of respondents with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree said they’d used the Internet the day before. That figure compares to 33 percent of respondents with “some college” education who had used the Internet the previous day, and 22 percent with a high school diploma.


Percentage of Respondents Who
Use Internet by Education
Level of Education Percentage of Users
Less than high school 24.2%
High school 22.6%
Some college 33.1%
Bachelor’s degree or higher 43.2%
Source: Stanford Center for the Quantitative Study of Society

E-mail still accounts for the largest percent of online activity, at 46.33 percent. The next two popular online activities are browsing (33.70 percent) and instant messaging (6.83 percent).


Time Spent by Different Internet Activities and by Location*
Activity Home Work Other Places Percentage
Email 13.85 10.33 1.36 46.63%
Internet Browsing 11.50 5.96 1.00 33.70%
Instant Messaging 2.96 0.53 0.26 6.83%
Newsgroup/Message Boards 1.65 0.64 0.29 4.72%
Chat rooms 1.60 0.00 0.16 3.21%
Creating/Maintaining Websites 0.99 0.82 0.04 3.38%
Social Networking 0.24 0.51 0.10 1.54%
In Total 32.79 18.78 3.21
% 59.86% 34.28% 5.86% 100.00%
Note: *In minutes from surveyed 6 hours in a day.
Note: Time Study 2004: N=1,518, Age 18-64 and weighted
Source: Stanford Center for the Quantitative Study of Society

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