Young adults (ages 18-34) in Canada and the US agree that healthcare, education, and employment are the three most important issues facing their respective countries. But the differences between these two groups quickly become apparent once they are asked about other matters, according to research by Ipsos Reid that investigated the behaviors, lifestyles, and habits of the emerging market of young consumers ages 18-34 in the US and Canada.

For example, 73% of Canadians in this age group rate the environment as important, compared with 61% of their American peers. Terrorism? Some 65% of 18- to 34-year-old Americans say it is important, but fewer than half (44%) of their Canadian counterparts agree, the survey found.

"The values and attitudes of young adults ages 18-34 are critical points for marketers and decision makers to understand," says Paul Lauzon, senior vice president with Ipsos Reid. "Knowing how they think and act is an investment in the future."

This chart provides a quick snapshot of the differences between the two groups—as well as one striking similarity:


Below, more about what these groups share and what sets them apart in terms of their:

  • Media usage
  • Lifestyle and values
  • Employment and education
  • Entertainment preferences

Media Usage

When asked about their leisure activity time, Americans and Canadians have a clear affinity for the Internet and television. Young adults in both countries reported nearly an identical amount of time spent on the Internet each week: Americans reported being "actively connected to the Internet" an average of 28 hours per week; Canadians reported being connected one hour less over the same time frame.

On a daily average, Americans in the age group watch about an hour more television per day than Canadians. On weekdays, Americans reported watching an average of 5.9 hours per day; Canadians, 4.8 hours. On weekends, Americans watched an average of 5.5 hours and Canadians watched 4.6 hours.

There is a marked cultural difference between the two groups when it comes to text messaging. Americans really like text messaging, sending and receiving an average of 129.6 text messages per week. That is nearly double the Canadian average of 78.7 messages per week.

Both groups enjoy online social networking, but do so quite differently. Canadians in the age group are big on Facebook, with 81% having registered a profile compared with only 57% in the US. MySpace is more popular with Americans than with Canadians; 54% of young adults in the US have registered on MySpace, but fewer than half as many (23%) of their Canadian peers have done the same.

Lifestyle and Values

When it comes to lifestyle, Samantha McAra, senior research manager with Ipsos Reid, says the survey findings suggest that Americans are more "traditional" and "domestic," while Canadians are more "free-spirited."

"American young adults are more likely to get married, to own their home, and travel closer to home," she says. "The comparable group in Canada are less likely to be married, more likely to be in a domestic partnership, less likely to own their home, and more likely to travel abroad."

Key lifestyle and values findings:

  • Nearly four in 10 (39%) of US 18- to 34-year-olds are married, compared with only a quarter (25%) in Canada.
  • 18% of Canadians in this age group are in domestic partnerships, significantly higher than the 7% of same-age Americans who are.
  • 45% of young adults in the US own their home; in Canada, the proportion is 35%.
  • Only one-fifth of Americans (19%) have traveled to a foreign destination, something that nearly half of their northern counterparts have done. 
  • 88% of Canadians reported "actively participating in a recycling program" compared with 72% of their southern neighbors.
  • 33% of Canadians reported using public transit once a week or more often, compared with 20% in the US who reported doing so.

Employment and Education

There is little difference in employment status among 18- to 34-year-olds in both countries. About 6 in 10 respondents (64% in US, 62% in Canada) reported being employed on a full-time or part-time basis or were self-employed.

Canadians in the age group, though, were slightly more academic. The study found that three-quarters (76%) of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 have at least some college or post-secondary education compared with 68% of Americans in the same age range. And 17% of Canadians in the group reported being full-time students compared with 13% of Americans.

Entertainment Preferences

Canadians are more apt to play the lottery than Americans. In the past year, 80% of Canadians ages 18-34 have played a lottery game. In the US, only 63% of Americans in the same age bracket played lottery games.

That being the case, Americans are more interested in playing lottery games on the Internet than Canadians. When asked, almost half (46%) of Americans within the group said they would be interested in playing lottery games in the Internet. Fewer than a third (31%) of their Canadian counterparts expressed an interest.

Americans are currently more likely to play games on the Internet for real money—28% vs. 20% in Canada. Yet American young adults are more likely to perceive online gambling as illegal than those in Canada—31% vs. 19%.

And in their sports viewing, Americans prefer football and Canadians prefer hockey.

In the United States, NFL football is the most watched sport within the study group, with 57% of respondents having reported watching a game in the past year. Major league baseball (44%) and college football (43%) are the second and third most watched sports. In Canada, NHL hockey dominated—58% of Canadian respondents had watched at least one game in the previous year. NFL football comes in second with 32%, edging out the home-grown Canadian Football League (29%).

"Football culture in America and hockey culture in Canada run deep and tie in closely to national identity," says McAra. "But what is interesting is that for a country with no NFL team and a reputation for winter sports, many Canadians have an interest in the NFL."

About the data: Presented here are some of the findings of Ipsos Reid's Emerging Markets study, conducted online between May 20 to June 3, 2009, on 1,069 US adults and 1,177 Canadian adults ages 18-34. US respondents were interviewed in English, Canadian respondents in English and French. 

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