“Necessity or not”? Pew says Americans’ views are changing.

Pew Center for People & the Press logoThe Pew Research Center fields a Social & Demographic Trends survey on a fairly regular basis which asks Americans if they think certain items are “necessities” … or a luxury they could do without.

Included in the survey are a variety of items ranging from automobiles and appliances to communications devices.

The 2010 survey was conducted in May and queried nearly 3,000 respondents. The results of this survey were released in late August, and they reveal that landline phones and television sets are quickly becoming less essential to U.S. consumers.

In fact, only ~42% of the survey respondents feel that a TV set is a necessity, which is down 10 percentage points from just one year ago.

Here is what respondents reported in response to being asked whether they consider each of the following items to be a “necessity”:

 Automobile: 86% (down 2 percentage points from the 2009 Pew survey)
 Landline phone: 62% (down 6 points)
 Home air conditioning: 55% (up 1)
 Home computer: 49% (down 1)
 Cell phone: 47% (down 2)
 Microwave: 45% (down 2)
 Television set: 42% (down 10)
 High-speed internet: 34% (up 3)
 Cable/satellite TV: 23% (no change)
 Dishwasher: 21% (no change)
 Flat-screen TV: 10% (up 2)

Of course, landline phones and TV sets have been fixtures of American life for as long as most of us can remember. But the Pew research shows this is now changing, and it’s especially so among those in the 18-29 age bracket. In fact, only ~30% of the younger age segment believe that having a TV set is a necessity.

As for landline phones, current government data show that only three-fourths of U.S. households have a landline phone, which is down from ~97% in 2000. Not surprisingly, going in the opposite direction are cell phones; today, more than 80% of U.S. adults use them, up from only about 50% in 2000.

The Pew survey results from 2010 versus 2009 reveal several other declines in “necessities,” but those declines are only slight and may be a result of the economic downturn. Instead, it seems clear that the major shifts are happening due to technological change, not because of the economic picture.

The Pew survey results don’t reveal too much that’s surprising … but it’s important to put some statistics to our broad hunches. And those stats are telling us that certain changes are occurring rapidly.

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