The phone connector is over 142 years old. Used on switchboards for decades by generations of nasally-voiced women, the technology morphed into its present-day form. 

And the tech is one that might go the way of those nasally-voiced operators, with the double-shot of Apple removing the headphone jack from its iPhone line coupled with the rise in popularity of wireless earbuds and headphones.

A recent CivicScience study of nearly 4,000 Americans 13+ confirms this trend, with a whopping 41% of the country owning at least one pair of wireless headphones or earbuds. And perhaps not surprisingly, more than one in eight Americans own Apple AirPods, not bad for a product on the market for less than three years. 

When it comes to AirPods in particular, no surprises here: People who have iPhones and/or love Apple products are much more likely to have splurged on the AirPods.

For wireless earbuds in general, a few notable standouts emerge, starting with younger people. Gen Z owns wireless earbuds or headphones at nearly three times the rate of Boomers and older. And their AirPod use? It doubles that of Gen X.

Money and Music Are Key Drivers

Increasingly, wireless headphones and earbuds are carrying societal cache as a signifier of wealth. Households with incomes north of $100,000 own the tech at a 37% higher rate than households under $50,000. It’s worth noting that although a pair of AirPods costs roughly $150, a pair of wireless earbuds could be had for $5 at Five Below.

So while age and wealth clearly play a major role in who does and does not use wireless headphones or earbuds, the biggest difference is found in whether or not Americans pay for streaming music services. People who pay for Spotify, Pandora, or other music streaming services are a whopping 225% more likely to go wireless with their headphones or earbuds.

Finding a Sound Fit 

One of the issues with earbuds – wireless or not – is comfort. As a result, about three in 10 Americans say they would at least consider purchasing premium earbuds that are custom-fit to their ears. 

What’s even more interesting is made-to-order earbuds might be a giant untapped market, as 13% of people who don’t use earbuds or headphones say they’d be at least somewhat likely to buy custom-fit varieties.

Earbuds for More than Music

Using a smartphone as an actual phone yields some interesting takeaways. When making a call, people under 25 are much more likely to do so with their earbuds or headphones already connected (14%). But when answering a call, under 25’s look more like the rest of the age groups who mostly just put their phones to their ears.

So How Could This Impact Buying Behaviors?

Right now, 50% of Americans believe the traditional headphone jack and wires will be obsolete. That trend is clearly visible when looking at the rise in wireless earbud owners. What’s interesting is that 67% of U.S. adults don’t anticipate needing to buy wireless earbuds within the next 6 months. But 12% do believe they will need to buy wireless earbuds – meaning their device won’t have a headphone jack – and they find that burdensome.

Lastly, while Apple AirPods are clearly a market leader across wireless headphones, there is still nearly a third (28%) of Americans using wireless buds that are not part of the Apple suite of products.