October 15, 2002, 12:00 AM

The affluent continue to drive web use, says Nielsen/NetRatings

Households with incomes of $100,000 to $150,000 were the fastest growing group online in the past year, Nielsen/NetRatings reports, with $150,000+ households the second fastest growing.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

The consumer drive to the web was led by the affluent--those who could afford computers and monthly ISP fees. With the incredible growth of web use the past few years, analysts were advising retailers and marketers to prepare for the entrée of lower-income consumers.

But figures today from Nielsen/NetRatings show that affluent individuals continue to be the drivers of Internet growth. Individuals in households with incomes of $100,000 to $150,000 were the fastest growing group online in the past year, Nielsen/NetRatings reports, with $150,000+ households the second fastest growing.

The $100-$150,000 group grew 20% in the past year and account for 12% of the Internet population. The $150,000+ group grew 14% and account for 5.3% of the online population. Third fastest growing was the next in line for income: $75-$100,000 households, which grew 12% and account for 17% of the online population. Together, the $75,000+ households represent 34% of the online population, vs. 25% of the population as a whole.

By comparison, online usage by households earning less than $25,000 grew 2% and now account for 5.9% of Internet users, while $25-$50,000 households grew 5% and account for 26.6% of online users. The average household income in the U.S. is $55,000, according to the 2002 U.S. Census.

“Until a few months ago, the fastest growing online users were the lower income groups,” says Lisa Strand, director and principal analyst, Nielsen/NetRatings. “But this shift is the signal that people without the discretionary income are seeing Internet access as a luxury, not a necessity. They are being careful about their spending in this economy.”

Much of the growth among high-income individuals’ access to the Internet is coming at work, Strand says. "Droves of highly paid executives are coming online for the first time at their offices. Those earning more than $100,000 grew 54% in the past year as compared to 14% the year before," Strand says. "Corporate America is realizing the Internet is as much an essential part of the work environment as the telephone and facsimile."

Growth among executives may be the result of a number of factors, Strand says, including corporations’ laying off of lower-paid workers who might have done research for executives, who are now forced to do the work themselves, and cutbacks in corporate use of travel agencies or travel departments, meaning that more executives are making their own travel arrangements.



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