Physical currency has existed since the dawn of the modern economy, but its role is waning as new modes of payment have emerged: Today, 24% of Americans indicate that they make no purchases using cash during a typical week. At the same time, an identical share of Americans (24%) indicate that they use cash for all or almost all of their typical purchases, and about half of Americans (51%) fall somewhere in the middle: They say they typically make some purchases using cash and some purchases in other ways.
A plurality (if not outright majority) of most demographic groups indicate that they tend to mix and match cash and other modes of payment – but some groups are less reliant on cash than others. For instance, those with household incomes of $75,000 or more per year are substantially more likely than those earning less than $30,000 per year to say that they do not make any purchases using cash in a typical week (34% vs. 15%); conversely, lower income Americans are much more likely to say that they make nearly all of their purchases in cash (38% vs. 10%). Blacks also tend to be more firmly rooted in the cash economy: 42% of blacks use cash for nearly all of their purchases in a typical week, compared with 28% of Latinos and 19% of whites.
In addition, Americans under the age of 50 are less reliant on cash than those 50 and older – although these differences are somewhat less pronounced than are those pertaining to income and race. Some 28% of Americans ages 18 to 49 say that they make none of their purchases using cash in a typical week, compared with 20% of those ages 50 and older.
And while 24% of Americans indicate that they make no cash purchases during a typical week, an even larger share – 39% – indicates that they don’t particularly worry about having cash on hand at all times, since there are plenty of other ways to pay for things if they’re short on cash. On the other hand, 60% of Americans try to make sure that they have at least some cash on hand, just in case they need it. And as was true of the way they pay for purchases, Americans under the age of 50 are more likely than older adults to say that they don’t really worry about having cash on hand due to the range of other payment options available to them: 45% of 18- to 49-year-olds say this, compared with 31% of those 50 and older.
Around half of Americans have heard of the alternate currency bitcoin – but just 1% have actually used bitcoins themselves
Recently an entirely new type of alternative currency has emerged in the form of virtual “cryptocurrencies.” The most widely recognized of these virtual currencies is bitcoin, whose mysterious origin was the subject of a Newsweek cover feature. This survey finds that awareness of bitcoin is quite high: Overall, around half of Americans (48%) indicate that they have heard of bitcoin. Men are significantly more likely than women to have heard of bitcoin (60% vs. 37%), and a substantially larger share of whites have heard of bitcoin (54%) than blacks (28%) or Latinos (33%). College graduates (73% of whom have heard of bitcoin) and those from households earning $75,000 or more per year (69%) also have especially high levels of awareness.
But although many Americans have heard of bitcoin, actual usage is much rarer: just 1% of Americans say they have ever collected, traded or used bitcoin.