Exclusive research by NOP shows that four out of ten people over 15 now use a computer on a regular basis. But this usage is by no means equally spread throughout the population. Nearly three-quarters of young people aged between 15 and 24 are familiar with computers but this falls to half of the 25- to 34-year-olds; four out of ten 35- to 54-year-olds, and a mere 17 per cent of the over 55s.
Young people have the highest rate of computer use both educationally and at home. Almost half (46 per cent) of all under 25-year-olds use a computer at school or college. They make up two-thirds of all educational users. But their domestic use shows the attraction of the market more strongly, since it is more likely to be voluntary. Half of all young people use a computer regularly at home, nearly twice as many as any other age group.
Far more than any other electronic or technological market, including mobile phones, exposure to computers has skewed dramatically upmarket. Six out of ten people in ABC1 (white collar or professional) households use a computer regularly, compared with a quarter of C2DEs. Usage is also far more widespread in the South, than in the Midlands, or, more particularly, the North.
Computers are used by roughly the same number of people, about a quarter of all adults, either at home or at work. About half this number use a computer in both places, so for more than one in ten of all adults, and a higher proportion of the working population, computers form an integral part of their lives.
Use “at work” is particularly closely linked to social class, showing to what extent computers have become standard office equipment. Three-quarters of people using computers regularly at work come from the ABC1 sector. But perhaps more surprising is that a higher proportion of ABs (the professional and managerial group) use computers than C1s (white-collar workers), showing that, unlike previous office technologies, computers are not being used only in a service capacity, but directly by decision-makers.
ABC1 households have been enthusiastic adopters of the new technology at home. Forty-four per cent of ABs and a third of C1s use a computer at home regularly, compared with less than one in five of other households.
Eight out of ten computer users employ them for word processing, far higher than the 51per cent who perform calculations. Seven out of ten engage in “general business use”; six out of ten play computer games – although this rises to three-quarters in the l5-24 age group.
People with a home computer have a higher rate of participation in word processing and game playing than work users, and are equally likely to be doing calculations. This breadth of use shows the ubiquity of the household computer, and demonstrates a lively market for domestic software.
Using the Internet
Seventeen per cent of all adults, 40 per cent of people who use a computer regularly, are also making use of the Internet. Just over half of those with Internet access are connected at work, a third use it at school or college, and 43 per cent at home. As with general computer use, there is substantial overlap; 37 per cent of business users and a quarter of educational users access at home as well. Nearly half of the home users are also connected at work, establishing a core market of great sophistication and expertise.
Unlike general computer use, men are twice as likely as women to be Internet users, in all three environments. The South has twice as many business users as the North or the Midlands. However, educational access is less biased, and northern computer users, although fewer on the ground, are actually slightly more likely to be Internet users than their southern counterparts.
The upmarket bias in computer use is even stronger for the Internet. ABC1s make up 86 per cent of home and 92 per cent of work users, although they are only 46 per cent of the population. Children and teenagers from upmarket households also make up seven out of ten Internet education users.
“General information” is the most appealing function of the Net; catering for 83 per cent of users. Two-thirds use it for “communication”, education, entertainment and “business or work” all attract about six out of ten users. Although learning access is highest among those most likely to be in full-time education, it is by no means confined to them; just over half of those using the Net for education are over 25.
But young users set the tone for Net entertainment providers; 86 per cent of l5- to 24-year-olds use this function, and they provide 55 per cent of users. The same age group is disproportionately important in the other two non-commercial applications, communication and information acquisition, implying continual growth for the market.
NOP asked everyone who used a computer regularly, but was not yet connected to the Internet when they were most likely to connect at home. Only half of all users, and four out of ten home users, did not intend to join. Twenty-eight per cent were interested in subscribing, but had no definite time in mind; 16 per cent thought they would join in the next year, and another six per cent were intending to connect in the next three months.
Both these figures show a substantial increase from November 1996, when Spotlight last examined the market for home computers and video games. In 1996, 16 per cent of home computer owners were intending to connect to the Internet within the next year, compared with 27 per cent in this year’s research. The proportion of home computer users who had no intention of joining has fallen from 55 per cent to 42 per cent.
However, the market looks like strengthening its existing franchise, rather than breaking into new areas. More than four-fifths of those definitely intending to get onto the Net come from the Midlands and the South, and six out of ten are from upmarket households. If this promise is fulfilled, a fifth of upmarket households will be able to access the Internet at home by the end of 1998.
But interest in the Net, as in all computer technology, is strongest among the under 25s. Already the most likely to enjoy home access, they are twice as likely as any other age group to join this year.