Search is fast catching up with email as the most popular online activity, according to a recent US survey.

According to the report, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the percentage of web users who regularly consult search engines has grown from a third in 2002 to 49% this year.

The most popular internet application remains email, with 60% of internet users writing or receiving emails on an average day. The use of email has been growing at a slower rate than search; 52% used email in 2002, a growth rate of 15%.

Other popular online activities included checking the news (39%) and finding out about the weather (30%).

There are age and gender usage variations, with men more likely to consult search engines than women, and younger web users more likely to use search than older users.

53% of men will consult a search engine on a typical day, compared with 45% of women while, of the under 49 age group, up to 55% use search regularly, compared with just 40% of over-50s.

According to the report: “With a growing mass of Web content from blogs, news sites, image and video archives, personal Web sites and more, Internet users have an option to turn not only to the major search engines, but also to search engines on individual sites as vehicles to reach the information they are looking for.”