USPS Household Diary Study

"63% of all household mail is comprised of marketing mail, 'not-responded to' marketing mail represents a staggering 45% of ALL mail sent via the USPS"

The USPS Household Diary Study

The USPS Household Diary Study (HDS) is a multi-year research study funded by the United States Postal Service. The study surveys a representative sample of over 5,200 households each year to provide a comprehensive and continuous description of the mail originating in-, and destined for American households. These 5,200 households are asked to keep and record all mail they receive in a 'mail diary', hence the name. The HDS thus measures mail sent and received by U.S. households, tracks household mail trends, and compares mail use between different types of households.

The Postal Regulation Commission (here) commissions the study, and publishes its results (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015).

A row of USPS mailboxes

Mail volume and recipients

During the fiscal year of 2019 the Postal Service delivered 142.6 billion pieces of mail (from Oct'18 through Sep'19) of which U.S. households received 111.4 billion pieces of mail. Mail sent or received by households constituted 81% of total mail in FY 2019.

Of that mail, and despite a fall of 2.1% in 2019 in advertising mail due to growing competition from online advertising, advertising mail represented 63% of ALL household mail. Households received 73.2 billion pieces of advertising mail total. Of this advertising mail, about 90% (65.7 billion pieces) was sent via USPS Marketing Mail, the remaining 10% consisted of advertising mail sent via First-Class Mail.

According to GroupM (here) American businesses spent approximately $245 billion in 2019 advertising their products and services, a 3.4% increase from 2018, (8.8% YoY from '17 to '18). Of this total advertising spending, 6.6% was spent on direct mail (unchanged from '18).

In general, larger households of older adults with higher income and education levels receive more advertising mail.



Ultimately, advertisers send direct mail because it is 'effective', despite the prevalence of digital advertisements (here): household members read and respond to it. In 2019, 51% of households read their advertising mail, while 21% scanned their advertising mail. 26% do not usually read their advertising mail (up from 9% 1987). Interesting to note is that only 30% of households read credit card advertising, while 42% discard them without reading! We as a population must really not like those. While ~72% reads or scans advertising mail, only 11% intends to respond to advertising mail!

So what does that mean.....?

Whether a piece of advertising mail is effective, depends on whether it's responded to. Even if '100%' of recipients read or scanned their mail, the ultimate goal is to solicit a response of course. So for the sake of argument, let's assume the above mentioned 11% actually responds to advertising mail (actual response rates typically range from 1 to 3%), which leaves the remaining 89% not-responded to.

That means that out of a total of 73.2 billion pieces of advertising mail sent, 65.2 billion pieces will be discarded without being responded to. Since the total mail volume for 2019 was 142.6 billion pieces, Not-responded to marketing mail represents a staggering 45% of ALL mail sent via the USPS.


Of all the mail handled by the USPS almost half comprises of advertisement mail which had to be printed, folded, prepared, sorted, carried by our brave carriers, and finally delivered to each household.... and was done so in absolute and total vain!

Here's what the Supreme Court concluded in 1970 in the landmark case 'Rowan vs US Postal service' (here):

"Today's merchandising methods, the plethora of mass mailings subsidized by low postal rates, and the growth of the sale of large mailing lists as an industry in itself have changed the mailman from a carrier of primarily private communications, as he was in a more leisurely day, and have made him an adjunct of the mass mailer who sends unsolicited and often unwanted mail into every home. (...) Everyman's mail today is made up overwhelmingly of material he did not seek from persons he does not know."

If this statement was true in 1970 when (advertising) mail volumes were significantly lower, it is certainly true today!