There is a fundamental split in how older and younger American adults use the Internet, according to a report from Pew Internet and American Life Project (pdf). For older age groups, it is primarily a tool: their main use is search, email and shopping. Internet users between the ages of 18-32, on the other hand, use the Internet primarily for entertainment. “These younger generations are significantly more likely than their older counterparts to seek entertainment through online videos, online games, and virtual worlds, and they are also more likely to download music to listen to later,” says the report. Teenagers used the Internet primarily for gaming. 78 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds did this, which is more than those who use email. In other words, younger age groups are more Web 2.0 than older groups.

Internet users are spread pretty evenly among all age groups up to 54-years-olds, though the number of older Internet users is of course growing.

Over half of people online are between the ages of 18 and 44. The highest percentage of Americans online are kids between the ages of 12 and 17. 93 percent of this population is online, the highest percentage of any age group.

30 percent of Internet users are Gen Y or Millenials (ages 18-32), 23 percent are Generation X (33-44), 22 percent are “Younger Boomers” (45-54). 13 percent are “Older Boomers” (55-63), 7 percent are the “silent Generation” (62-72), and 4 percent are the “G.I. Generation” (ages 73 and up).

The oldest age groups saw the highest growth in Internet usage.

Generation X, in with their long hairs, Docs, flannel shirts and obsessive movie referencing, are the Internet’s biggest spenders. 80 percent of them buy online, slightly higher than the demographic below them, 18 to 32-year-olds, 71 percent of whom shop online.

Gen Xers are also the leaders in online banking, though the younger group is beginning to catch up.

By Mark Alvarez