Who Pays for Kids' Cell-Phone Use? In the U.S., Parents Do

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U.S. teens and young adults are less likely to foot their own cell-phone bills than their counterparts in other countries.American parents are far more likely to pay the cell-phone bills for their high-school- and college-age children than their counterparts in other countries, according to a new Nielsen report.

Only about one in four 15- to 19-year-old Americans say they pay for their own cell-phone service, compared to more than half of German, Brazilian and British residents in the same age group. And fewer than half of Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 footed their own bills, compared to almost 90% of Russians of the same age and more than 80% of those in Germany, Brazil and the U.K., according to the report.

Family Plans

The proliferation of family calling plans and economic uncertainty in the U.S. -- which has made children more dependent on their parents -- have contributed to the trend, Nielsen says. About 40% of all U.S. mobile-phone lines are part of a family plan, according to Roger Entner, senior vice president of Nielsen's telecom practice's research and insights group. "It's really easy for parents to add their children to family plans, and it's cheap," Entner says. "Most parents won't kick their kid off when it only costs them $10 a month."

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In the past decade, telecommunications companies have increased their marketing of family plans to gain incremental revenue from parents who weren't using all of their minutes. The approach is less popular overseas, where most mobile plans are prepaid. In the U.S., just 19% of cell-phone users over 25 years old use a prepaid plan, according to the study.

"Until a few years ago, prepaid had a stigma attached to it," Entner says. "Internationally, that stigma was never there."

Additionally, American teens and young adults are the world's most likely to use their phones for email, while Chinese users between 15 and 24 are the world's biggest users of the mobile Internet, according to the report. Americans and Russians are the most apt to download video games, and Chinese are most likely to use instant-messaging features.

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