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PCs find place with families

A surprising 52 percent of U.S. households with children had a PC in 1996, according to a recently published survey, the first time that PC ownership assumed the majority in this category.

The PC is now up there with the dog, Twister, and the Weber barbecue.

A surprising 52 percent of U.S. households with children had a PC in 1996, according to a recently published survey from Computer Intelligence, an industry marketing firm that tracks PC sales. This marked the first time that PC ownership assumed the majority in this category.

"It jumped about four percent. It was up pretty dramatically," said Mark Nelson, vice president and general manager of the company's consumer research group. "The No. 1 reported use was games, followed by personal finance in a distant second."

Overall, PCs were found in 40.7 percent of U.S. homes, an increase from 38.5 percent, according to the survey.

Computer ownership was linked with income and education, according to the study. About 60 percent of households with incomes above $40,000 had PCs, compared with 24 percent of homes with incomes of $35,000 and below.

Likewise, PCs were found in more than 50 percent of households where at least one person had a college degree, compared with 42 percent where there was limited college experience. PC penetration dropped to 29 percent in households headed by high school graduates while only 12 percent of households without high school diplomas.

Although the overall growth rate was slower in 1996 than in years past, sales appear higher in 1997, according to Nelson. "Two things have picked it up: the new MMX machines and the sub-$1000 machines from people like Hewlett-Packard and Dell," he said.

At present, Nelson added that is was unclear whether these low-end boxes were going into lower-income households, as the manufacturers want, or cannibalizing their traditional target markets. Computer Intelligence will have a new survey out in November that should shed some light on the subject.

The study further found that the generation gap began to level out. PC ownership in households headed by people between the ages of 30 and 49 only grew a point to 52 percent. By contrast, computer ownership in households for the 30-and-under set shot to 42 percent, a 21 percent increase. Households headed by people in their 60s bought computers at three times the rate of the 40 to 49 crowd.