Smartphones are pricey items, as are the monthly data plans that go with them. So it wouldn't be surprising to see that kids from wealthier families are far more likely to sport the devices. But they aren't. Nor does ownership vary greatly by race or ethnicity (although it does by parents' education level).
That's the finding of a March 19 report issued by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. For those ages 12 to 17, smartphones seem to be the great equalizer.
"To not see some of those differences in these populations is an important finding," said Amanda Lenhart, author of the report.
That equality is most likely the case between white and African-American kids. It's not as certain for Latino teens, because they were less sure what qualifies as a "smartphone," versus a regular phone. (Surveys were offered in English and in Spanish.)
But equality seems to apply only to smartphones. When it comes to all types of cellphones, the numbers fall along a different divide. White teens are more likely than Latino teens to have a phone — 81 percent versus 63 percent — and possibly more likely than African-Americans, although the numbers are too close to say for sure. And far more teens in families earning $75,000 or more per year have some sort of cellphone than do poorer teens.
The likelihood of owning a phone also drops with education. If the parents don't have a high-school degree, "You are substantially less likely to have a cellphone," said Lenhart.
The survey also found that a slightly smaller percentage of young teens (12 and 13) own phones today than in the past. Are kids less mad for mobile? Probably not. Lenhart reckons the reasons are money related. With recent economic difficulties, parents may be delaying purchasing phones for their kids or adding them to family plans.
Among the 77 percent of teens who do have phones, the fingers are flying faster than ever. From 2009 to 2011, boys in general upped their texting from 30 to 50 messages per day. But they are no match for girls, who typically send 100 messages daily.
The case last summer
One caveat: These numbers are not the freshest. Though the report came out on March 19, 2012, it uses results from a survey conducted from April 19 to July 14, 2011. Lenhart said that because teen surveys are very complicated and expensive, the Pew Center can only conduct such surveys once a year, or even once every 18 months. She said she expects that the numbers have changed, but not the overall trends.
Some data from the survey appeared in a report last fall, but Pew is just now able to do this report, covering ownership, texting and other activities. "Would we love to have released the data more quickly? Sure," said Lenhart. But staff resources are tight.