The world is going mobile. Smartphones are changing the way we communicate, the way we shop and look for information, and remaking entire industries. However, just how prevalent are smartphones across gen-Zers, millennials, and older generations?

Here at the genYZ Network, we would be remiss if we didn’t cover smartphones in our very first edition of genYZ Quick Charts. Technology, led by smartphones, is an integral part of the gen-Z and millennial story. So for genYZ Quick Chart #1, we examine smartphone penetration across the 12+ U.S. population.

Smartphone penetration by traditional generations

gen-z-millennial-generation-smartphone-penetrationIn 2015, most traditional generations have adopted smartphones. With the exception of the silent gen. and older (who are currently over 70), smartphone penetration lies above two-thirds.

Seventy-six percent of gen-Zers have smartphones (measured as those currently 12-18 years old). Eighty-three percent and 82% of millennials and gen-Xers have phones, respectively. The millennial and gen-X generations are the two most likely to have phones. After gen-X, smartphone ownership quickly trails off. Sixty-eight percent of baby boomers own smartphones.

Millennial and gen-X lead smartphone ownership with similar penetration rates. Keep in mind, while ownership levels between these two segments are similar, their behavior and attitudes regarding smartphones vary considerably. Millennials self-profess a remarkably different level of dependence on the device.

The chart is also a reminder that despite the recurring thought pieces about how the hyperbolically connected gen-Z will remake the world, its smartphone market – like the segment – is still maturing. Gen-Z smartphone penetration is only eight percentage points higher than baby boomers.

Smartphone penetration by 5-year view

Looking at consumers in 5-year age buckets uncovers a couple interesting features of smartphone penetration. At genYZ, we are strong proponents of cohort analysis for generational research. We carry this out through our five-year cohorts research method.

Building generational understanding through five-year cohorts allows for a closer examination of life stage (key for adolescent and young adult consumers) and avoids overly broad generation-wide portrayals.


Unsurprisingly, 12-14 year-olds have the lowest penetration levels of the measured gen-Z and millennial segments. While this is often a tricky data point to measure since smartphones can be family devices, it shows that penetration lags at 68% for 12-14 year-old gen-Zers (compared to 76% of 12-18 year-olds overall).

However, smartphone penetration rises quickly by the high school years. Eighty-one percent of 15-18 year-olds have smartphones – marginally higher than the youngest millennial segment. Older gen-Zers exhibit essentially the same smartphone ownership rates as younger millennials. Aggregate gen-Z penetration is brought down by the 12-14 year-old segment.

From there the overall smartphone penetration trend follows as expected. Smartphone penetration peaks with older millennials and the youngest gen-Xers. It remains high for gen-Xers and only drops to 80% for the oldest gen-X segment (45-49 year-olds).

The sharpest drop doesn’t occur until the baby boomer generation where smartphone penetration falls from 77% for the youngest baby boomers to 59% for the oldest.


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