Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age

I. Overview

When it comes to socializing and communicating with friends, young Latinos (ages 16 to 25) make extensive use of mobile technology. Half say they text message (50%) their friends daily, and 45% say they talk daily with friends on a cell phone. Other communication platforms are less widely used for socializing. For example, fewer than one-in-five young Latinos (18%) say they talk daily with their friends on a landline or home phone, and just 10% say they email their friends daily. These findings are based on a new analysis of data from a nationwide telephone survey of Latinos conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

Use of mobile communication technologies differs notably among young Latinos by nativity. Two-thirds (65%) of the native born say they communicate with their friends by text message daily, while just 26% of the foreign born do so. And more than half (55%) of the native born talk daily by cell phone with their friends, while just 29% of the foreign born say they do the same.

These differences are explained in part by the fact that the native born are more likely than the foreign born to have a cell phone in the first place. Overall, eight-in-ten (79%) young Latinos say they use a cell phone, with use greater among the native born than the foreign born—84% versus 70% (Livingston, 2010).

Even though text messaging and cell phone calls are the most widely used mediums of social communication among young Latinos, they use these platforms less extensively than do their non-Latino counterparts. Among 16- and 17-year-olds,1 just under half (49%) of Hispanics text daily, compared with 64% of non-Hispanics. When it comes to talking with friends daily via cell phone, there is less of a difference—44% of Hispanics say they do, compared with half (51%) of non-Hispanics who say the same.

Hispanics are the nation’s largest and youngest minority ethnic group. In 2008, there were 46.9 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 15.4% of the total U.S. population. Among young people, Hispanics represent an even larger share. Some 18%, or 7.5 million, of those ages 16 to 25 are Hispanic (Pew Hispanic Center, 2010).

Other key findings:

  • Language: While 68% of English-dominant and half (50%) of bilingual young Latinos use text messaging daily for communication, just 19% of Spanish-dominant young Latinos do the same.
  • Gender: Young Hispanic males are less likely than young Hispanic females to use social networking sites for communication—19% versus 27%. In contrast, young female Hispanics are less likely than young Hispanic males to communicate face-to-face outside school or work with their friends—15% versus 26%.
  • Hispanic Youths vs. Hispanic Adults: Hispanics ages 16 to 25 are more likely than Hispanics ages 26 and older to use mobile technologies to communicate with their friends. While half (50%) of young Latinos use texting to communicate, just 21% of older Latinos do the same.
  • Latino Youths vs. Other Youths: Among those ages 16 to 17, Latino youths are less likely than non-Latino youths to communicate daily via a landline or home phone with their friends—13% versus 32%.

About this Report

The 2009 National Survey of Latinos (NSL) focused on the attitudes, behaviors, experiences, and identities of young Latinos. It was conducted from August 5 through September 16, 2009, among a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 2,012 Hispanics ages 16 and older, with an oversample of 1,240 Hispanics ages 16 to 25. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish, on cellular as well as landline telephones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for respondents ages 16 to 25 is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points, and the margin of error for respondents ages 26 and older is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. For a full description of the survey methodology, see Appendix A.

Interviews were conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS).

This is the last of three reports about young Latinos based on the 2009 NSL. The first report explored the educational attitudes and expectations of young Latinos (Lopez, 2009). The second explored the attitudes, behaviors, identities, and demographics of Latino youths (Pew Hispanic Center, 2009).

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.

The term “youths” refers to 16- to 25-year-olds unless otherwise indicated. In this report, the terms “Latino youths” and “young Latinos” are used interchangeably, as are “Hispanic youths” and “young Hispanics.”

“Foreign born” refers to persons born in Puerto Rico or outside of the United States. Although individuals born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens by birth, they are included among the foreign born because they are born into a Spanish-dominant culture and because on many points their attitudes, views and beliefs are much closer to Hispanics born abroad than to Latinos born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia.

“Native born” or “U.S. born” refers to persons born in the United States and those born abroad to parents at least one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

Language dominance is a composite measure based on self-described assessments of speaking and reading abilities. Spanish-dominant persons are more proficient in Spanish than in English, i.e., they speak and read Spanish “very well” or “pretty well” but rate their English speaking and reading ability lower. Bilingual refers to persons who are proficient in both English and Spanish. English-dominant persons are more proficient in English than in Spanish.

  1. This analysis is limited to people ages 16 and 17 as this is the age range for which comparable data for non-Hispanics is available from the Pew Research Center’s Pew Internet and American Life Project (PIAL). For a description of PIAL’s data, see the report “Teens and Mobile Phones.”
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