Study: 2021 a year lived online

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UK adults spent more time online on desktop, smartphones or tablets in 2020 than comparable European countries according to Ofcom’s annual study into the nation’s online habits.

Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 delivers a snapshot of an unprecedented year, when communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work and education moved more online.

UK adults spent more than three-and-a-half hours online each day in 2020 – more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain.

Brits also spent nearly £2.45 billion (€2.85bn) on, and in, mobile apps across in 2020, with Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix topping the list.

The report also reveals:

  • The UK’s online shopping bill soared by almost 50 per cent to nearly £113 billion in 2020.
  • Teenagers’ online purchasing power is also growing – they’re now spending more money online than offline (68 per cent vs. 32 per cent in March 2021);
  • TikTok experienced huge growth during the pandemic – from 3 million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021
  • Tinder is the most popular dating app among young adults, while around half (49 per cent) of all UK adults (26 million) visited an adult website or app in 2020;
  • Despite most platforms setting their minimum user age at 13, nearly two-thirds (59 per cent) of UK children use social media by the time they are 11. By age 15, use increases to 95 per cent; and
  • Two-thirds of boys (67 per cent) and three-quarters of girls (77 per cent) aged 7 to 16 said that social media can cause them worries about body image.

“In an unprecedented year, we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services – which, for many people, have provided a lifeline in lockdown,” noted Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director of Strategy and Research.

“This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour, as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety.”

Alongside the full report and interactive report, Ofcom is publishing three third-party reports designed to help Ofcom better understand people’s online habits, behaviours and attitudes.

These reports are:

  • Automated tools: an assessment of the existing range of automated tools for measuring online experiences.
  • Misinformation: a qualitative exploration
  • Online Misinformation and Media Literacy: a rapid evidence review

Ofcom is also publishing an independent report by PA Consulting on transparency in the regulation of online platforms as part of its preparation to take on new responsibilities regulating online safety.


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