One in four households now has only mobile phones

Having no land line also correlated by CDC with binge drinking and smoking

One in four U.S. households now has only wireless telephone service, a recent U.S. government study has found.

The report also made some interesting correlations between health and wireless use, reporting that wireless-only users were exposed to binge drinking at nearly twice the rate of adults in homes with land lines.

Mobile-phone-only adults were also more likely to be current smokers and more likely to experience "serious psychological distress," said the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released May 12.

The CDC did not say that wireless phones caused any of the health problems it noted, but it documented that wireless-only homes were more heavily populated by younger people and unrelated adults -- groups generally exposed to more drinking and smoking.

The percentage of homes with only mobile phones, 24.5% in the second half of 2009, represented an increase of 1.8 percentage points since the first half of 2009, according to the survey of more than 21,000 households.

The steady increase in wireless-only homes has been reported by the CDC since 2003, when about 3% of homes in the U.S. were wireless.

Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, said in a blog post that the growth in wireless-only homes is "an amazing statistic."

However, he and other analysts are keenly aware of ways telecom providers in the U.S. have been gradually shifting networks and business plans toward wireless.

Yankee Group also said that the national average of wireless-only homes understates results it found in a survey of 14,000 consumers in 2009. At that time, it found that wireless-only homes exceeded 28%. In states such as Arkansas, North Carolina and Ohio, more than 40% of the homes had only wireless service, Howe said.

In some rural states where wired telecommunications are expensive or complicated to install, a majority of homes have cut their land lines -- at least based on survey results using a sample size of less than 50 people, Yankee said. Those states include Idaho, Wyoming and North Dakota.

The CDC didn't say that wireless phones caused binge drinking or smoking or psychological distress and merely reported a correlation. Binge drinking was reported in 34.5% of wireless-only homes, compared with 18.7% of homes with wired phones.

The CDC didn't report how much more likely wireless-only homes were to have smokers or residents with psychological problems.

In another correlation, the CDC discovered that wireless phones were used widely in homes occupied by unrelated adult roommates, confirming the prevalence of wireless by young people and college residents seen by wireless carriers and college administrators.

The CDC said nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of adults living only with unrelated adults were also in homes that were wireless-only.

Forty-three percent of renters had wireless phones only, and 49% of adults aged 25 to 29 had only wireless phones in their homes.

For groups between 18 and 24, and between 30 and 34, about 37% lived in wireless-only homes. Men were slightly more likely than women (25% vs. 21%) to live in homes with only wireless phones.

Adults living in poverty also were more likely to have wireless-only homes, a fact well documented by carriers.

Adults living in poverty (36%) and near poverty (29%) were more likely than high-income adults (20%) to be living with only wireless phones.

There were more hispanics (30%) than whites (21%) and blacks (25%) living in households with only wireless phones.

The Northeast of the U.S. had the lowest percentage of adults living in wireless-only homes, at 15%, while the Midwest had the most, at 26%, the South had 25% and the West had 22%.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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