Early Adopters Don’t Always Act Their Age in the U.S. or Elsewhere

A MetaFacts TUPdate by Dan Ness, Principal Analyst

Are Americans really a nation of early adopters? Are early adopters mostly age 18-24 in the U.S. and other countries? While Americans pride themselves on many forward-thinking attributes, it is not ranked first for early PC adopters compared with many developed and developing countries.

Think back to how old you were the first time you used a personal computer. If you are American and were 17 or younger, then you’re in the youngest 21% of American early adopters and ranked 10th among 16 major countries. As an under-18 adopter in Brazil, you’re less unique, being in the same group as 31% of today’s Brazilian online adults, and ranked 1st for youthful PC adoption. If you were 26 and Italian, Australian, or Saudi Arabian, then you were younger than average in your country.

There are many reasons that some countries have a higher share of young first-time PC users than other countries. One element is how evenly income is distributed, as shown by measures such as the Gini coefficient. Countries such as Brazil and Mexico have a similar distribution of income today as they had when PCs were becoming widely available there in the 1980’s, so today’s wealthier adults were most often in wealthy families which had better access to technology. There are also cultural differences, some of which encourage younger people to use technology for their education or economic future. Other cultures may discourage youngsters from using technology, such as for their safety and privacy. Saudi Arabia is affected by this cultural preference, even though its wealthiest citizens are still the strongest adopters.

South Korea is at the latest end of the age-adoption spectrum. On first glance, this may seem counterintuitive to Korea-watchers, since South Korea has enacted and maintained national policy to narrow its digital divide and to get its population online and connected to the Internet. In fact, in doing so, South Korea leapfrogged many other countries in the speed and breadth of its citizens’ connectivity. However, since this was enacted relatively recently, it accelerated the adoption rate among adults in the workplace, and to some degree less among younger children in homes.

Why is this important?

Assuming that early adopters are all young Millennial Gen Y or Gen Z oversimplifies the market and misses the mark. Experience matters, since tech-savvy users make different decisions than relative newbies, particularly when correcting for age.

The age of first PC use as well as the years of usage tell a lot about the person’s experience, with the past pointing the way toward their likeliest future choices. After all, someone who has gone through 10 versions of Microsoft Windows (including Millennium Edition) will have a different perspective than a similarly-aged first-time PC user.

In conducting factor analysis with the Technology User Profile datasets, MetaFacts finds that both earliest age of adoption and length of experience are strong additional factors to explain the variance when predicting the heaviest and lightest consumers of new information technology and consumer electronics products and services. These factors are in addition to other other more standard demographics. In other words, likelihood to adopt new technology is not only about youth; early adopters are more likely to act like early adopters even as they age.

This has implications for any tech marketers seeking a more effective path than the simplified approach of focusing marketing primarily to certain younger age groups. The first implication is to lower the risk of wasting resources with misdirected energy. Another implication is that new & stronger markets may emerge beyond the stereotypical young adopter as early adopter, leading to even more effective results.


The findings in this TUPdate are drawn from the MetaFacts Technology User Profile Survey. In each wave of Technology User Profile, we survey a representative sample of respondents about their use of mobile phones, computers, technology attitudes, and many other consumer electronics products and services, behavioral and socioeconomic factors. Current TUP subscribers can access and drill down more deeply into this phenomenon using TUP Interactive Access or with their datasets.

We began the above analysis by first looking at the answers from over 30,889 respondents in the Technology User Profile service and then drilled down further into their profiles to get a more complete picture.

To see other research coverage of Internet products and activities  – from smartphones to feature phones, desktops to notebooks, social networking, demographics, and attitudes – see the many other questions TUP answers on www.technologyuser.com. Tech market research professionals can license direct access to TUP.

Contact MetaFacts to access the MetaFacts Technology User Profile Overview Edition report, which covers the broader range of key trends. View findings in 25 pages of executive summary analysis, 200+ pages of charts and graphs, all supported by 95+ pages of detailed tables. The complete, 300+ page report is delivered to you electronically.

About TUPdates

MetaFacts releases ongoing syndicated original research on the market shifts, trends and consumer profiles for Smartphones, Netbooks, Mobile PCs, Workplace PCs, Home PCs, Web Creators, Broadband, and many other technology products and services. These TUPdates are short analytical articles in a series of specific topics utilizing the Technology User Profile Annual Edition study, which reveals the changing patterns of technology adoption around the world.

About MetaFacts

MetaFacts helps technology marketers find and measure their best and future customers. MetaFacts’ Technology User Profile (TUP) survey is the longest-running, large-scale comprehensive study of its kind, conducted continuously since 1983, the year before Apple released the Apple Macintosh. The detailed results are a primary market sizing and segmentation resource for leading companies providing consumer-oriented technology products and services, such as PCs, printers, software applications, peripherals, consumer electronics, mobile computing, and related services and products. TUP analyzes key trends and the data-rich source can be dived into more deeply for custom analysis. For more information about the syndicated research service, analysis tools, publications and datasets, contact MetaFacts at 1-760-635-4300.

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