Mac Owners are Richer

by Krishna on April 26, 2011

The Hunch blog has an interesting piece on the cultural differences between a Mac person and a PC person. Samples:

  • 54% of PC people have completed a four-year college degree or higher. The same can be said for 67% of Mac people.
  • PC people most prefer McDonald’s fries (34%) followed by steak fries (22%). Mac people most prefer bistro-type fries (40%) followed by McDonald’s fries (24%).
  • PC people are 74% more likely than Mac people to prefer Hollywood films. Mac people are 95% more likely to prefer Indie films.

This is all very nice, the assumption being that people who buy PCs are fundamentally different from those who buy Macs. And there may have been a valid point, if we were comparing people who buy Coca Cola versus Pepsi, i.e., if there were no difference in the price of the product. Unfortunately that is not the case with PCs and Macs.

Take a look at the Apple store. The least expensive desktop is the iMac starting at almost $1200, the least expensive computer without any accessories is the Mac Mini at almost $700 and the least expensive laptop at almost $1000. Now take a look at the PC vendors. Dell has laptops and desktops starting at $450 (desktops include monitors). HP has similar prices and they go even lower for “notebooks”, i.e., netbooks.

If you take the median household income in the United States, around $50000, a difference of $500 in the purchase price is around 1% of your income, not counting taxes, which could make it even more of a difference. If you are buying multiple computers for different members of your household, you are talking real money. Then you have expenses for other electronic devices — television, smartphones and so on.

Now, there might be good reason why someone will spend $500 more for a computer. One is that they don’t care about spending more money as long as they can get a better product. Or $500 doesn’t mean much to them. Or the social value of having a high-end product is worth more than $500. You have narrowed this down to, I don’t know, maybe 10.8% of the population.

I know this may come as a shock to some people, but computer ownership is not universal. Only 80% of Americans have a computer at home. Owning a computer itself puts you in a separate category. There are many low-income, rural and racial groups that don’t own computers and/or have no access to the Internet at home. Of those who own computers, a good number use it for basic stuff like email or browsing the news. Even popular sites like Facebook is not used by all computer users (by a calculation based on their stats, roughly 150 million active users in the United States).

Now of the computer owners, some of them can afford pricier computers. And for them, there are always Apple products. If you have money to spend and you like spending on computer products, then Apple is probably the right choice for you. So the right question is not “what do Mac people do?”, but “what do people who can afford and own Macs do?” Yes, Virginia, there are cultural differences between people who have more money versus who has less money.

One potential problem with my analysis is that the Hunch info-graphic was designed based on responses from around 380 thousand Hunch users, i.e., a better educated and richer demographic than your average computer owner. But if you go through the characteristics (frequently throwing parties, higher levels of college education, upscale fashion, costlier and more exotic food, etc.), it points to the average Hunch Mac owner having higher incomes than the average Hunch PC owner.

There is an interesting discussion to be had of those who can afford a Mac, but choose not to buy. One could be a status quo bias. If someone is already familiar with a PC, they may not see much value in buying a Mac and having to learn new things. Older people may exhibit this bias. Another could be not seeing the value in spending additional money even though one can afford it, sometimes known as being a miser. And there may some PC-specific reasons like needing to work from home for a company that has a PC-centric infrastructure.

To conclude, this is actually a pretty good example of the causation versus correlation problem (you may notice the fine print where the Hunch folks point that they already know that, but ignore it anyway — nothing to stand in the way of a good story). There are definitely cultural differences between PC and Mac owners/lovers. But the cultural differences are not the cause. The income level of Mac owners is higher and that is reflected in the differences.

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