Insights Ofcom publishes annual study into the nation’s online habits


Ofcom says that this year, its study “Online Nation 2021” reveals a year lived online. UK adults spent more time online on desktop, smartphones or tablets in 2020 than comparable European countries.

The study delivers a snapshot of an unprecedented year, when communication, entertainment, culture, retail, work and education moved more online. UK adults spent more than three-and-a-half hours online each day in 2020, more than an hour longer than in Germany and France and 30 minutes more than Spain. Brits also spent nearly £2.45 billion on, and in, mobile apps across last year, with Tinder, Disney+, YouTube and Netflix topping the list.

The report also reveals:

  • the UK’s online shopping bill soared by almost 50% to nearly £113 billion in 2020;
  • teenagers’ online purchasing power is also growing and they are now spending more money online than offline (68% v 32% in March 2021);
  • TikTok experienced huge growth during the pandemic, from three million UK adult visitors in September 2019 to 14 million by March 2021;
  • Tinder is the most popular dating app among young adults, while around half (49%) of all UK adults (26 million) visited an adult website or app in 2020;
  • despite most platforms setting their minimum user age at 13, nearly two-thirds (59%) of UK children use social media by the time they are 11; by age 15, use increases to 95%; and
  • two-thirds of boys (67%) and three-quarters of girls (77%) aged seven to 16 said that social media can cause them worries about body image.

Alongside the full report and interactive report, Ofcom has published three third-party reports designed to help it better understand people’s online habits, behaviours and attitudes. These reports are:

  • automated tools: an assessment of the existing range of automated tools for measuring online experiences;
  • Misinformation: a qualitative exploration; and
  • Online Misinformation and Media Literacy: a rapid evidence review.

Ofcom has also published an independent report by PA Consulting on transparency in the regulation of online platforms as part of its preparation to take on new responsibilities regulating online safety. To access the annual study and accompanying reports, click here.