British housewives spend almost half of their free time online, far more than the average around the world, according to a study of internet behaviour.
The poll of more than 27 500 people in 16 countries found that housewives in the United Kingdom spend 47% of their leisure time on the web, compared with 39% for students and 32% for the unemployed. Globally, the average across all occupations was 29%.
Overall, the Chinese spend the largest part of their leisure time online — 44% compared with 28% for Britons, rising to 32% of those aged 18 to 24. Of the 16 nationalities surveyed, Scandinavians seemed the least inclined to while away their free time in front of the computer — Danes spent an average of 15% of their non-work hours on the net, with Swedes at 18% and Norwegians at 22%.
The poll, conducted by international market research firm TNS, also found that the UK is the least trusting of information in its newspapers — more respondents said they “highly trusted” Wikipedia as a credible source (24%) than newspapers (23%). But it could be worse for the traditional media — only 6% of people in the UK said they “highly trusted” private blogs. The UK’s favoured news source was friends (45%), followed by online news (40%) — an apparent contradiction, considering that much online news originates from newspapers. In Germany, 52% of respondents said they “highly trusted” Wikipedia.
Of the 2 500 Britons who took part in the Digital World, Digital Life poll, 38% said they placed a lot of trust in TV news. In Italy, where three of the nine TV channels are owned by the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the figure was only 24%.
More than half (58%) said they had gone on to meet face-to-face with a contact first made on the internet, with 45% having had telephone conversations with friends they met online. Germans, meanwhile, were most likely to have met up with an online friend, at 76%. The figure for Chinese web users was the lowest, at 40%.
UK respondents stated that on average 25% of their friends were “online-only friends” who they never interacted with in the “real” world. British internet users have an average of 17 friends who they first met online — rising to 25 friends for men under 25.
Although younger age groups admitted to having more online friends, older web users had a higher proportion of their social circle online. Whereas 24% of 18- to 25-year-olds’ friends were “online-only”, this rose to 33% for 35- to 44-year-olds. Swedes claimed to have made the most online friends, an average of 39.
Virtual friendships also span the globe. UK respondents reported having friends from places as diverse as Azerbaijan, Nepal and Christmas Island. However, despite the nation’s apparent ease with social networking, many people doubted the true identity of their online “friends”. Thirty-seven percent of all respondents admitted they could not be sure of an online friend’s identity, though 57% of Germans strongly agreed with the statement “You can never be sure of an online friend’s true identity”.
The study also found that many activities which we traditionally did in our spare time are now being done online. Three-quarters of Britons have used the internet for banking in the past month and two-thirds have also paid bills online. Seventy-five percent of British respondents had read news online in the past month, while 62% had checked the weather. More Britons (55%) had watched a video clip on sites like YouTube than had listened to audio (44%) or participated in an online auction (39%). Social networking sites had been visited by 37% of people, while 32% had downloaded music.
Seven percent of Britons called themselves bloggers, with 16% saying they had “viewed or contributed” to a blog, compared with 88% of Chinese respondents.
Germans seemed keener on chat rooms than other nationalities, with 51% describing them as “fun”.
Koreans were most into social networking, and Swedes into sharing photos and videos online.
The TNS study also looked at how people liked to get in touch with one another. In Korea 80% of respondents said they called their friends on their cellphones, but only 61% said they actually talked to them in person.
Arno Hummerston, managing director of TNS Global Interactive, said: “If our leisure time is so precious, then why do we on average spend almost a third of it using the internet? We believe it is because we are making more efficient use of our valuable time, specifically by using the internet — thereby allowing us to fit more into our lives.
“Being online helps people fulfil certain tasks and activities quickly and efficiently. By spending productive time online, we are actually making more time for leisure. With more social and entertainment activities available online, it is also easy to understand why our lives are becoming more digital.”
For the poll, TNS conducted online interviews with 27 522 people aged 18 to 55 in Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the United States. – guardian.co.uk