Nearly Half of Smartphone Users Can't Imagine Life Without It

Nearly Half of Smartphone Users Can't Imagine Life Without It

by Lydia Saad

Story Highlights

  • Young women are least able to imagine life with no smartphone
  • iPhoners more bonded to phone than Androiders, 52% vs. 43%
  • Four in 10 with smartphone would be anxious if they lost it for a day

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Smartphones emerged as a mass-market product less than a decade ago, yet already 46% of American smartphone users have what might be called smartphone amnesia, agreeing with the statement "I can't imagine my life without my smartphone." A bare majority of U.S. adults, 54%, disagree.

U.S. Smartphone Users' Bond With Their Phones, April-May 2015

Smartphone attachment is higher among women (51%) than men (41%), and among younger than older adults. And at each age level, women are more likely than men to say they can't imagine life without their phone. As a result, women under 30 are the most likely of all gender/age groups to feel this way (58%), while men 65 and older are the least likely (35%).

U.S. Smartphone Users' Bond With Their Phones, by Gender and Age, April-May 2015

Additionally, adults with an iPhone are a bit more likely than Android users to feel their life revolves around their device, 52% vs. 43%. Although iPhone users report higher household income on average than Android users, and are slightly more likely to be female, these differences don't explain the higher attachment iPhone users feel toward their phones.

Four in 10 Would Experience Anxiety if Their Phone Were Lost for a Day

This kind of attachment may come with a downside, however. Because of their absorption with their device, many smartphone users say that being separated from it can be stressful.

As Gallup previously reported, four in five smartphone users keep their phone close throughout the day, nearly as many check it at least hourly, and three in five sleep near it. And more than one-third of U.S. workers report checking their work email frequently during nonworking hours. Thus, it is not surprising that 42% of all smartphone users say losing their device and not replacing it for a day would make them somewhat (32%) or very (10%) anxious. Another 30% say they would be "not very anxious," leaving just 29% who would not be anxious at all.

Again, young women are the most likely gender/age group to concede they would be anxious if they had to go without their smartphone for a day. Nearly six in 10 women under 30 say this would make them very or somewhat anxious, as do 51% of women 30 to 49 years of age. The rate is closer to 40% for men under 50 and is a third or less among senior men and women.

How Anxious Smartphone Users Say They Would Be if They Lost Their Smartphone for a Day -- by Gender and Age

Seven in 10 Say Smartphone Has Made Their Life Better

Of course, smartphones are not just about compulsion, dependence and anxiety. One likely reason Americans consider their smartphones integral to their lives is that they perceive they are having a positive impact. Overall, 70% of smartphone users say their device has made their life better, including 24% who believe it has made their life a lot better. While a quarter of all smartphone users say their device has made their life neither better nor worse, just 6% say it has made their life worse to any degree.

As would be expected, crediting their smartphone with a better life is nearly universal (86%) among those who can't imagine their life without it, and 41% of this group says it has made their lives a lot better.

Bottom Line

The smartphone is transformative for those who use it, not only by making their lives better, but by becoming something of a fifth limb. Most take it with them everywhere and sleep with it, and if it goes missing -- even for a day -- four in 10 would feel a significant level of stress. Although smartphones are quickly replaceable, their owners' potential anxiety about losing them reveals how dependent people have become on them over a relatively short period of time.

Three factors magnify people's bonds with their smartphones: being young, being female and being an iPhone user. And to some extent, these have a compounding effect, such that younger female iPhone users tend to show the highest levels of attachment to their devices, while older male Android users are generally the least attached. (See table at end.)

More research needs to be done to understand these dynamics, particularly in terms of the differences by type of phone: Are some operating systems or brands more compelling than others, shaping how users respond to them, or are different types of people simply drawn to different phones? It is also unclear if young women truly have a more intense relationship with their phones or if they are just more willing to admit it.

One thing is certain: People's attachment to their phones is likely to grow in the coming years as smartphone penetration expands toward 100% from the current level near 70%, and as phones add even more features -- such as universal Wi-Fi and improved voice control, wallet and online shopping capabilities -- that strengthen users' dependence on them.

Survey Methods

Results of smartphone ownership are based on 21,204 national adults interviewed by Web. Results of attitudes and behaviors of smartphone usage are based on 15,747 members of the Gallup Panel who have smartphones. The study was completed by Web and mail between April 17, 2015, and May 18, 2015.

The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. adult population, using 2012 Current Population Survey figures.

For results based on this sample, one can say that the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

Summary of Smartphone Attachment by Gender/Type of Phone/Age, April-May 2015

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