Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey
The use of media to follow news and current affairs

Release date: February 15, 2016 Correction date: (if required)

The ways Canadians use to get information on political and social issues, and the frequency at which they do so, have changed considerably in the past decade. Moreover, generational gaps have widened in terms of the frequency of consumption and the types of media used. In particular, Canadians are following news and current affairs less frequently than in the past.

The proportion of Canadians who reported following news and current affairs daily declined from 68% in 2003 to 60% in 2013 (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Frequency of following news and current affairs, 2003 and 2013

Description for Chart 1

The title of the graph is "Chart 1 Frequency of following news and current affairs, 2003 and 2013."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 3 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 80 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 2 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage."
The horizontal axis is "Frequency of following news and current affairs."
The title of series 1 is "2003."
The minimum value is 7 and it corresponds to "Rarely or never."
The maximum value is 68 and it corresponds to "Daily."
The title of series 2 is "2013."
The minimum value is 13 and it corresponds to "Rarely or never."
The maximum value is 60 and it corresponds to "Daily."

Data table for Chart 1 Chart 1
Frequency of following news and current affairs, 2003 and 2013, percentage
Table summary
This table displays the results of Frequency of following news and current affairs 2003 and 2013 (appearing as column headers).
  2003 2013
Rarely or never 7 13
Several times a month or several times a week 25 27
Daily 68 60

In contrast, the proportion of Canadians who stated that they rarely or never followed news and current affairs doubled (7% in 2003, compared with 13% in 2013).

Behind this decline in the frequency at which people follow news and current affairs were significant differences among age groups.

In general, older Canadians are more likely to follow news and current affairs daily. In 2013, 81% of Canadians aged 55 years and older reported following them daily, compared with 37% of Canadians aged 15 to 34 years.

The magnitude of the difference between younger and older Canadians has increased over time, which is attributable to a higher proportion of youth reporting that they rarely or never followed news and current affairs.

The proportion of young people aged 15 to 34, who stated that they rarely or never followed news and current affairs, almost doubled during the period, from 11% in 2003 to 21% in 2013. In comparison, the proportion of Canadians aged 55 and older who said the same rose from 4% to 6% (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Frequency of following news and current affairs, by age group, 2003 and 2013.

Description for Chart 2

The title of the graph is "Chart 2 Frequency of following news and current affairs, by age group, 2003 and 2013."
This is a column stacked chart.
There are in total 6 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 100 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage."
The horizontal axis is "Age group."
The title of series 1 is "Daily."
The minimum value is 37 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years 2013."
The maximum value is 88 and it corresponds to "55 years and older 2003."
The title of series 2 is "Several times a month or several times a week."
The minimum value is 8 and it corresponds to "55 years and older 2003."
The maximum value is 42 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years 2013."
The title of series 3 is "Rarely or never."
The minimum value is 4 and it corresponds to "55 years and older 2003."
The maximum value is 21 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years 2013."

Data table for Chart 2 Chart 2
Frequency of following news and current affairs, by age group, 2003 and 2013, percentage
Table summary
This table displays the results of Frequency of following news and current affairs Daily, Several times a month or several times a week and Rarely or never (appearing as column headers).
  Daily Several times a month or several times a week Rarely or never
15 to 34 years 2003 48 41 11
15 to 34 years 2013 37 42 21
35 to 54 years 2003 73 22 6
35 to 54 years 2013 60 28 12
55 years and older 2003 88 8 4
55 years and older 2013 81 13 6

At the regional level, the frequency at which people followed news and current affairs decreased in all regions. However, differences between the regions remained.

The highest proportion of people who reported that they followed news and current affairs daily was in Quebec (63%). In contrast, the lowest proportions were observed in Manitoba (55%) and Alberta (53%) (Table 1).

 

 

University graduates aged 25 to 54 follow news and current affairs less regularly than people aged 55 and older with less than a high school diploma

People with a higher level of education are more inclined to follow news and current affairs regularly. However, Canadians aged 55 and older, regardless of their level of education, followed news more frequently than other age groups

For example, among people aged 55 and older with less than a high school diploma, 79% followed news and current affairs daily. In comparison, 60% of university graduates aged 25 to 54 followed news and current affairs daily.

In terms of trends, the frequency at which people followed news and current affairs declined more rapidly among university graduates aged 25 to 54 than among their older counterparts. For example, the proportion of university graduates aged 25 to 54 who rarely or never followed news and current affairs tripled during the period, from 3% to 9% (Table 1).

The use of newspapers and television is declining considerably

In 2013, as in 2003, television was the type of media used most often by people who followed news and current affairs several times a month or more frequentlyNote 1. However, the proportion of people who reported that they followed news and current affairs on television fell from 90% in 2003 to 78% in 2013 (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs, 2003 and 2013.

Description for Chart 3

The title of the graph is "Chart 3 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs,Note 1 2003 and 2013."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 5 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 100 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 2 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage."
The horizontal axis is "Type of media."
The title of series 1 is "2003."
The minimum value is 22 and it corresponds to "Magazines."
The maximum value is 90 and it corresponds to "Television."
The title of series 2 is "2013."
The minimum value is 18 and it corresponds to "Magazines."
The maximum value is 78 and it corresponds to "Television."

Data table for Chart 3 Chart 3 Type of media used to follow news and current affairsNote 1, 2003 and 2013, percentage
Table summary
This table displays the results of Chart 3 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs 2003 and 2013 (appearing as column headers).
  2003 2013
Newspapers 69 51
Magazines 22 18
Television 90 78
Radio 52 50
Internet 30 59

In contrast—and not surprisingly—use of the Internet to follow news and current affairs rose significantly, from 30% in 2003 to 59% in 2013. It was the only type of media that posted an increase in use.

Print newspapers are probably the type of media most affected by the changes in Canadians’ habits. In 2003, 69% of people who followed news and current affairs at least several times a month read newspapers to get information. A decade later, this proportion was 51%.

Profile of the users of different types of media

It is important for the media and their advertisers to know the profile of the people using them, given that they depend to a large extent on advertising revenue.

Younger Canadians did not use the same types of media as their older counterparts to get information. In 2013, 77% of 15- to 34-year-olds used the Internet to follow news and current affairs, compared with 36% of people 55 years and older. Older Canadians were considerably more likely to read newspapers and magazines and to watch television (Chart 4).

Chart 4 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs, by age group, 2013.

Description for Chart 4

The title of the graph is "Chart 4 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs,Note 1 by age group, 2013."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 5 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 100 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 3 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage."
The horizontal axis is "Type of media."
The title of series 1 is "15 to 34 years."
The minimum value is 13 and it corresponds to "Magazines."
The maximum value is 77 and it corresponds to "Internet."
The title of series 2 is "35 to 54 years."
The minimum value is 16 and it corresponds to "Magazines."
The maximum value is 75 and it corresponds to "Television."
The title of series 3 is "55 years and older."
The minimum value is 21 and it corresponds to "Magazines."
The maximum value is 89 and it corresponds to "Television."

Data table for Chart 4 Chart 4
Type of media used to follow news and current affairsNote 1, by age group, 2013, percentage
Table summary
This table displays the results of Type of media used to follow news and current affairs 15 to 34 years, 35 to 54 years and 55 years and older (appearing as column headers).
  15 to 34 years 35 to 54 years 55 years and older
Newspapers 39 45 62
Magazines 13 16 21
Television 60 75 89
Radio 43 54 48
Internet 77 63 36

Table 2 shows in greater detail how use of the five types of media differs by age group.

 

 

In 2013, seniors 65 years and older accounted for 18% of the population aged 15 and older. However, they were overrepresented among people who read newspapers and magazines and who watched television to stay informed. For instance, of the 13.8 million people who read about news and current affairs in newspapers, about one-quarter were aged 65 and older (24%).

Men use the Internet more often to follow news and current affairs

Men and women have slightly different preferences in the types of media they use to follow news and current affairs. First, women were more likely (19%) than men (15%) to stay informed by reading magazines (Table 3).

 

 

Women were also slightly more likely to watch television (77%, compared with 73% of men).

In contrast, 62% of men used the Internet, compared with 55% of women (Table 3).

The highest level of education was also associated to some extent with the type of media used. The most significant differences involved the use of the Internet. While 76% of university graduates followed news and current affairs on the Internet, the same was true for 43% of people whose highest level of education is a high school diploma (Table 3).

In contrast, a higher level of education was linked to less frequent television watching: 82% of people whose highest level of education is a high school diploma watched television to stay informed, compared with 71% of university graduates.

There were also differences among the provinces. In 2013, the provinces with the highest rates of Internet use for following news and current affairs were Alberta (63%), British Columbia and Ontario (61% in both cases). At the other end of the spectrum, 51% of Quebec residents used the Internet.

Radio was used particularly in Prince Edward Island (57%), Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia (55% in both cases). It was used substantially less in British Columbia (43%).

Lastly, the highest proportion of people who watched news and current affairs on television was recorded in Quebec (82%). In comparison, the corresponding proportions were 70% in British Columbia and 69% in Alberta.

About one in four people used one type of media exclusively

In 2013, about one-quarter of Canadians used only one of the five types of media to follow news and current affairs (24%). Among young people aged 15 to 34, this proportion was 30% (Table 4).

 

 

At the other extreme, 21% of people used four or even all five of the different types of media. University graduates were most likely to be part of this group (29%, compared with 17% of those whose highest level of education is a high school diploma).

Differences among age groups in the types of media used were found for people who stayed informed using only one type of media. Among young people aged 15 to 34 who used only one medium, 60% used the Internet, compared with 10% of their counterparts in the 55-and-older age group. The Internet is different from the other types of media in that it also allows users to read newspapers, watch television and listen to the radio. However, it was not possible to determine through the survey exactly how people who use the Internet follow news and current affairs.

Among Canadians aged 55 and older, who used only one medium to stay informed, 71% used the television (Chart 5).

Chart 5 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs by people who use only one type of media to stay informed, 2013.

Description for Chart 5

The title of the graph is "Chart 5 Type of media used to follow news and current affairs by people who use only one type of media to stay informed, 2013."
This is a column stacked chart.
There are in total 3 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 100 with ticks every 10 points.
There are 4 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "percentage."
The horizontal axis is "Age group."
The title of series 1 is "Newspapers."
The minimum value is 8 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years."
The maximum value is 12 and it corresponds to "55 years and older."
The title of series 2 is "Television."
The minimum value is 23 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years."
The maximum value is 71 and it corresponds to "55 years and older."
The title of series 3 is "Radio."
The minimum value is 6 and it corresponds to "55 years and older."
The maximum value is 13 and it corresponds to "35 to 54 years."
The title of series 4 is "Internet."
The minimum value is 10 and it corresponds to "55 years and older."
The maximum value is 60 and it corresponds to "15 to 34 years."

Data table for Chart 5 Chart 5
Type of media used to follow news and current affairs by people who use only one type of media to stay informed, 2013, percentage
Table summary
This table displays the results of Type of media used to follow news and current affairs by people who use only one type of media to stay informed Newspapers, Television, Radio and Internet (appearing as column headers).
  Newspapers Television Radio Internet
15 to 34 years 8 23 8 60
35 to 54 years 9 43 13 35
55 years and older 12 71 6 10

Frequency of use of the different types of media

As part of the General Social Survey (GSS), respondents were asked to report the frequency at which they used the different types of media to follow news and current affairs.

In a typical week, Canadians who watched television to stay informed did so for an average of six hours. Radio was also used for an average of six hours per week, while the average for Internet users was five hours (Table 5).

 

 

The average number of hours devoted to listening to the radio was slightly higher for men (seven hours) than for women (six hours). The same held true for following news and current affairs on the Internet, with five hours among men and four hours among women.

Not only were older Canadians more likely to watch news and current affairs on the television, but they also spent more time doing so, with an average of eight hours per week, compared with three hours per week for those aged 15 to 34.

Regional differences in the average number of hours spent watching television, listening to the radio and using the Internet were generally more modest.

The results for the frequency at which people read newspapers and magazines to stay informed were similar to the more general results for the frequency at which people followed news and current affairs. For example, 60% of Canadians aged 55 and older read newspapers daily, compared with 21% of those aged 15 to 34.

Confidence in the Canadian media

As part of the GSS, respondents were asked the extent to which they had confidence in certain institutions, including the Canadian mediaNote 2.Respondents indicated their level of confidence on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means “no confidence at all” and 5 means “a great deal of confidence.”

In 2013, less than half of Canadians (40%) indicated that they had confidence in the Canadian media (responses of 4 or 5 on the scale). This was a relatively low proportion compared with the other types of institutions about which respondents were asked. For example, 76% reported having confidence in the police, 63% in local merchants and business people, and 61% in the school system.

The level of confidence in the Canadian media was, however, higher than that in major corporations (30%) and the federal parliament (38%).

Young people were less likely than older Canadians to have confidence in the Canadian media. Some 36% of 15- to 34-year-olds stated that they had confidence in the media, compared with 45% of people aged 55 and older.

Data source

This report is based on data from the 2013 General Social Survey (GSS) on Social Identity and the 2003 GSS on social engagement. The target population consisted of persons aged 15 and older living in Canada’s 10 provinces, excluding people living full-time in institutions.

For more information on the data source, please consult the following document:

2013:
http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SurvId=134876&InstaId=139605&SDDS=5024

2003:
http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&Id=5509

Date modified: