woman using tablet internet with face mask

UK adults spend more time online than most of Europe – Ofcom study

Image credit: unsplash

UK adults spent more time online in 2020 than other European countries such as Spain, France and Germany, according to Ofcom’s annual study into the nation’s online habits.

Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 report is the first such survey demonstrating a full year of the nation’s habits during the coronavirus pandemic.

It found that UK adults spent more than three-and-a-half hours (217 minutes) online each day in 2020, more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain.

Furthermore, around half of UK adults – 49 per cent, around 26 million – visited an adult website or app in September 2020. The largest, Pornhub, was visited by around a third of online adults (15 million) in September 2020, representing half of all UK men online, compared to 16 per cent of UK online women.

British adults also spent nearly £2.45bn on, and in, mobile apps last year, with Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix topping the list.

With high street shops forced to close, UK online shopping sales rose by half (+48 per cent) to nearly £113bn in 2020. Food and drinks retailers saw the biggest increase in online sales, with an 82 per cent rise on 2019 levels. Household goods also surged by 76 per cent, due to heightened interest in home improvements.

In April, Ofcom showed that the proportion of houses without an internet connection fell significantly during the pandemic and adults with previously limited digital skills were found to have embraced online shopping, digital banking and video calling. However, it also warned that those who had not made the jump could become even more isolated as services, shopping and communications increasingly move online.

Since the spring 2020 lockdown, teenagers have been spending more money online than offline and this trend has continued into 2021 (68 per cent online vs. 32 per cent offline in March 2021).

Around one in eight online adults and more than one in five of those aged 15-34 said they used an online dating service before the spring lockdown in 2020. Tinder was the most popular dating app among young online UK adults - visited by 11 per cent of 18-24s in September 2020 – while Plenty of Fish was most popular among the 45-54 age group.

This unfortunately also led to an increase in romance scams, with money lost to fraudsters increasing by 12 per cent to £18.5m.

TikTok experienced huge growth during the pandemic – from 3 million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021. TikTok also saw the biggest increase in daily use among young adults – with 18-24s more than doubling their time spent on it in the year to September 2020 (up from 17 minutes to 38 minutes).

TikTok, which has been accused of violating US child privacy laws and kowtowing to Chinese State demands to remove content featuring homosexuality or mentions of the Uighur Muslim genocide, nearly had to sell its international arm to a US firm last year under a directive from the Trump administration before a judge blocked the move.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director of strategy and research, said: “In an unprecedented year, we’ve seen a real acceleration in our migration to online services – which, for many people, have provided a lifeline in lockdown.

“This research is critical to keep pace with these changes in technology, economics and behaviour, as we prepare to take on new responsibilities for regulating online safety.”

This year’s report included research into adult content to support Ofcom’s new duties as regulator for UK-based video-sharing platforms and in preparation for new responsibilities for regulating online safety.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles