Digital Lifestyles: Young adults aged 16-24

14 May 2009

Executive summary

This report is designed to give an accessible overview of media literacy among young adults aged 16-24 in the UK. The aim of the report is to support people working in this area to develop and promote media literacy among this group. It is based on a much larger programme of research – Ofcom’s Media Literacy Audits, which were published in 2008 (-1-).


Compared to the general adult population, young adults are more likely to live in households with digital television and the internet, and to regularly use new media devices such as mobile phones, MP3 players and games consoles. By contrast, regular use of more traditional media, such as television and radio, is below the level for adults as a whole.

Media preferences and use

Developments in digital technology have had a significant impact on the media preferences of young adults; young adults are more likely to say they would miss mobile phones, the internet and MP3 players than adults as a whole and young adults are much more likely than adults as a whole to use more than one media device at the same time.

Overall, young adults are more likely to be interested in, and confident using, the services and functions available through digital television, the internet and mobile phones than are all adults.

Funding and regulation

Compared to adults as a whole, young adults are relatively unaware of how television programmes and radio stations are funded and whether they are regulated. In addition, relatively few young adults are aware of the 9pm television watershed.

Despite being more frequent and more advanced users of the internet, young adults are less aware of how search engines and the BBC website are funded, and do not have a clear idea as to whether internet content is regulated.

Focus on the internet

As well as being more likely to have access to the internet at home, young adults are using the internet for a wider variety of functions and for longer in a typical week, compared to adults as a whole.

Over half of young adult internet users have set up a social networking site profile, and most of these have a profile on more than one site. Half have privacy settings which restrict who can view their profiles.

Although use of the internet, and confidence in using services and functions, is higher for young adults, interest in and confidence using internet security tools is at the same level as for all adult internet users.

Most young adults who use the internet are very confident finding what they want online and using the creative elements available to them online. A minority have the same degree of confidence in being able to tell whether a website is truthful and reliable.

Young adults are less likely to make any kind of judgement about a website before entering personal details, less likely to have concerns about entering personal details online, and just over a fifth do not make checks before using new websites.

Within the young adult population, it is the attitudes and behaviours of the youngest adults – those aged 16-19 – that are most striking. These youngest adults are the most likely to share information and download content from the internet, at the same time as being less likely to make any checks or judgements, and more likely to believe that the internet is regulated.


Experience of learning about digital technology through classes or any other type of training is considerably more common among young adults aged 16-24 than among adults as a whole. Young adults also have a greater appetite for more learning; two in five young adults are interested in learning more about the aspects of digital technology asked about in the research, compared to one in three across the general adult population.

Young adults prefer to learn about using digital technology by asking friends or family, through trial and error and by reading the manual.


  1.-Media literacy of UK adults from ethnic minority groups
Report on UK children’s media literacy
Report on UK adults’ media literacy