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Center for the Digital Future Finds Significant Gaps in Internet Use Based on Age, Education, and Income

Written by Featured Organization on 23 October 2009.

The Internet is the most powerful communication tool of our age -- or at least it is for those who have access to online technology or who want to use it. This year, the total number of Internet users in the United States reached its highest point to date -- 82 percent of Americans say they go online, a percentage that has remained relatively steady for the last few years.

 

However, more than 55 million American are non-users, leaving a huge group that is increasingly disconnected from the mainstream, according to the annual study of the impact of the Internet on Americans conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

“Even though the vast majority of Americans are Internet users, a number nearly the size of the population of New York and California are still not online,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. “This group represents a significant percentage of the population that is going to fall farther and farther behind as the rest of the country becomes more engaged in its use of technology.

“While we expect to see continued growth in the number of users, we believe that this growth will be incremental; we will continue to see a large base of non-users for the near future.”

Internet Non-Users: Why Not Online?

Looking at reasons why Internet use may have plateaued, the 2010 Digital Future Project -- the most comprehensive year-to-year study of the impact of the Internet on America -- found that the three key demographic factors of age, education and income are associated with non-use.

For example, the survey findings show:

•54 percent of adults with less than a high school education are not online.

Among Internet non-users with less than a high school education, one-quarter said that they didn’t go online because they had no interest or it wasn’t useful to them. Twenty-three percent said that cost was the issue that kept them from using the Internet, 18 percent cited the lack of a computer or no Internet connection and 14 percent reported lack of knowledge or that they were confused by the technology.

•37% of adults who make less than $30,000 (household income) are not online.

Among Internet non-users with incomes under $30,000, 29 percent said they didn’t go online because they don’t have a computer, 28 percent said they had no interest or the Internet wasn’t useful, while 15 percent reported lack of knowledge or that they were confused by the technology.

In spite of low household income, only 15 percent of low-income non-users cited the expense of acquiring the Internet as a reason for not going online.

•Of Americans 66 and older, 59 percent are not online.

“While we’ve seen Internet use among older Americans double from 2000 to 2009 (20 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2009), the issue of older Americans who don’t use the Internet is a major concern, as access to many social and medical services that are vital to them move increasingly online,” said Cole.

Looking closely at Internet non-users age 66 and older, the survey found that the expense of going online or lack of knowledge of the Internet were not the primary reasons that more than half of those over 66 are non-users. Instead, the lack of computer ownership or a lack of interest in online technology were cited by more respondents.

For example, the survey found that 37 percent of non-users 66 and older said they don’t go online because they don’t have a computer or an Internet connection. Another 29 percent said they don’t go online because they simply have no interest in the Internet or online technology “was not useful to them.”

Only 14 percent of non-users 66 and older said they didn’t how to use the Internet, or were confused by online technology. And only five percent said that going online was too expensive or they couldn’t afford it.

“As a nation, we could dismiss the issue of age and Internet non-use among the oldest group of Americans as a ‘temporary problem’ -- which would be grossly irresponsible,” said Cole. “But a more significant long-term issue persists: how we deal with any new technology and Americans who don’t know how to use it-- whether it’s older Americans and the Internet today, or another group and an a yet-unknown technology tomorrow.”

The Center for the Digital Future: nine years of exploring the digital realm

The Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the Digital Future Project and similar studies in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australasia.

The Digital Future Project provides a broad year-to-year exploration of the influence of the Internet and online technology on Americans. Since 2000, the project has examined the behavior and views of a national sample of Internet users and non-users, as well as comparisons between light users (5 hours or less per week using the Internet) and heavy users (more than 24 hours per week on the Internet).

The project also explores differences in online behavior among users of telephone modems compared to broadband.

For more information about the Digital Future Project, visit www.digitalcenter.org.

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