Wireless-only households most prevalent in Arkansas, Mississippi: federal study

US National Center for Health Statistics finds wireless-only households are becoming commonplace, often driven by factors such as age, mobility and income level.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

A new report out of the National Center for Health Statistics finds that wireless-only households are on the rise. The study finds that overall, across the nation, more than one in four American households (26.6%) had only wireless telephones— an eightfold increase over just six years. The prevalence of such ‘‘wireless-only’’ households now markedly exceeds the prevalence of households with only landline telephones (12.9%), and this difference is expected to grow.

The study also came up with an interesting overlay analysis of data: that residents of states with lower average incomes have higher rates of abandoning landlines in favor of cellphones, versus those in areas with higher average incomes.

States leading with wireless-only households include Arkansas (35.2%), Mississippi (35.1%), Texas (32.5%), North Dakota (32.3%), Idaho (31.7%), and Kentucky (31.5%).  States with the lowest rates of wireless-only households include Rhode Island (12.8%), New Jersey (12.8%), Connecticut (13.6%), New Hampshire (16.0%), Pennsylvania (16.5%), Delaware (16.5%), and Massachusetts (16.8%). Prevalence rates were also relatively low in South Dakota (15.6%).

Renters and younger households also tended to be more likely to be wireless-only households.

As reported in The New York Times. the study's findings "reflect patterns of consumer behavior that are driven by age, mobility and, in a strange twist, poverty." The NYT article cites Stephen Blumberg, author of the study, who pointed out that "nearly 40 percent of all adults living in poverty use only cellphones, compared with about 21 percent of adults with higher incomes." Reasons for the disparity include the greater affordability of cellphones, driven by offers such as pay-as-you-go-plans.

In a touch of historical irony, NYT observes that up until a couple of decades ago, cell phones were for mainly for the wealthy only.

Interesting sidenote on the research methodology: many surveys are based on telephone interviews, so the study's authors acknowledge that they had quite a challenge on their hands in this regard, to identify households lacking a landline. In fact, the loss of landlines could result in more "Dewey Defeats Truman" moments for polltakers:

"The increasing prevalence of wireless-only households has implications for telephone surveys. Many health surveys, political polls, and other research studies are conducted using random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone surveys. Until recently, these surveys did not include wireless telephone numbers in their samples. Now, despite operational challenges, most major survey research organizations include wireless telephone numbers when conducting RDD telephone surveys. If they did not, the exclusion of households with only wireless telephones (along with the 2.0% of households that have no telephone service) could bias results."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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