Across Generations, Email Remains a Critical Tool For Daily Life
Email’s Flexibility Enables Different Functions in Different Age Cohorts
- Millennials and Generation X rank text message/SMS as their #1 most used communication method, followed by email.
- 31% of Millennials use messaging apps vs 29% of Gen Z social media.
- Gen Z is more likely than all other generations to rank social media as one of their most used (primary or secondary) communication methods.
- 95% of Americans rely on their email inbox today.
- 98% of the Silent Generation and 95% of Baby Boomers said they use email to communicate in their personal life vs. 80% of Gen Z.
- Baby Boomers (63%) and the Silent Generation (76%) are much more likely to rely on their email inbox to correspond with friends and family than Gen Z (29%) and Millennials (35%).
- Gen Z, Millennials, and Generation X are more likely to use email for online shopping and verifying identity than Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.
Predicting the death of email has been a pastime of the tech and business media for decades. There’s just something about email — a digital communication tool with roots in the 1960s — that gives us a gut instinct that its time is limited. In spite of this, predictions about the demise of email have always fallen flat.
Today, email not only clings to life but is in fact thriving, as Edison Mail’s 2022 State of Communications study demonstrates. The survey also reveals a possible explanation for how email has weathered intense competition from text messaging, social media, and specialized messaging apps like Slack and WhatsApp.
Email Remains a “Most Used” Utility
Although email remains critical for people of all ages, as we see in Figure 1 below, the study shows clear generational differences in what the go-to communication medium is (at least in personal life).
In each successively older generation, email is an increasingly dominant primary mode of personal communication. Gen X (80%), Millennials (74%), and Gen Z (69%) are more likely than older generations to rank text message/SMS as their most used communication method over any other in their personal life–and yet email did remain the second most used method of communication for these generations. Interestingly, there’s a split between Millennials and Gen Z for the third most popular communication method — while 31% of Millennials rank messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal as one of their most used communication methods, 29% of Gen Z chose social media.
Older generations are seemingly much less likely to rely on newer technologies. Half (50%) of the Silent Generation ranked email as their #1 most used communication method in their personal life. One fourth of Baby Boomers (24%) and a fifth (19%) of the Silent Generation ranked phone calls as their #1 most used communication method over any other in their personal life.
There’s not much surprise here, and these findings may seem to support the theory that email is on its way out. However, support for the email-is-dying theory begins to break down in the study’s findings regarding top email activities by generation.
Younger Generations Rely on Email to Work, Shop, & Verify Identity
Gen Z (60%), Millennials (67%), and Generation X (64%) are more likely to rely on their email inbox for online shopping (e.g. coupons, offers, and purchases) compared to Baby Boomers (55%) and the Silent Generation (50%), as well as verifying their identity for online accounts (e.g. social media).
More than half of Gen Z (53%), Millennials (58%) and Generation X (55%) rely on their email inbox for work correspondence vs. only one third of Baby Boomers (31%) and one fifth of Silent Generation (21%). It’s important to consider that Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation may be using email less often for work correspondence given that many have retired from the workforce.
Older Generations Email to Connect with Friends & Family, Read Newsletters, & Manage Finances
98% of the Silent Generation and 95% of Baby Boomers reported that they use email to communicate in their personal life compared to 80% of Gen Z. Equipped with an arsenal of modern and tech-driven communication tools at their disposal, Gen Z (29%) and Millennials (35%) are much less likely to rely on their email inbox to correspond with friends and family compared to Baby Boomers (63%) and the Silent Generation (76%), who grew up without contemporary digital alternatives. The rise in text/SMS, messaging apps, and social media have no doubt helped Gen Z and Millennials grow accustomed to using other methods to personally connect.
Older generations are also more likely to use email to read newsletters and manage their finances than younger generations — areas where specialized apps and social media are undoubtedly cutting into the traditional domain of email.
Reliable, Secure, and Flexible
The two major findings discussed above point to an important nuance about how email is evolving. The first finding, that successively older generations more often use email as their go-to communication medium, makes sense on its face. The second finding, that different generations use email for different purposes, has a similar face validity.
Taken together, these findings suggest that email is in no way on its way out. Rather, its proven security, universal adoption, and agnosticism toward any one company are gradually shifting the role it has to play from primary means of communication to critical communication backbone supporting all other digital activities.
This theory is backed up by the study’s finding that across generations, 90% or more of individuals continue to rely on email.
“Email has scaled beyond its original design of just exchanging messages, and has evolved into both our digital identity and repository for modern American life. We see this reflected in how each generation relies on their inbox– older generations continue to use email more for personal correspondence while younger generations rely on it more to manage their internet-driven activities like purchases and accounts. Regardless of why people use email, it remains a critical utility across every generation and will continue to be so for years to come,” said Edison Mail VP of Marketing, Hetal Pandya.