Digital Differences from Pew: Who’s online? Who’s not? Why not?

Who is online? According to the most recent Pew Internet & American Life survey, 78 percent of American adults use the Internet. As they point out that’s a steep climb from the 1 in 10 average in 1995. As I look at the chart of who is an who isn’t online, there are a few statistics jump out:

  • 41 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are online
  • 43 percent of adults without a high school diploma are online
  • 62 percent of adults making less than $30,000 are online
  • 68 percent of Hispanic adults are online

This rings true with other studies we have seen, such as stats listed in the 2011 Minnesota Broadband Task Force report

  • 53% of low-income households do not subscribe
  • 51% of Hispanic households do not subscribe
  • 39% of rural households do not subscribe
  • 68% of seniors do not subscribe
  • 79% of low-income seniors do not subscribe
  • 54% of low-income households with children do not subscribe

Granted these stats reflect different things. Pew is looking at Internet access in the US; the Task Force was looking at broadband access in Minnesota but they are pointing in the same direction.

Pew also looks at why people aren’t online and again the answers will sound familiar…

More recent research by the Pew Internet Project has shown that among current non-internet users, almost half (48%) say the main reason they don’t go online now is because they don’t think the internet is relevant to them—often saying they don’t want to use the internet and don’t need to use it to get the information they want or conduct the communication they want. About one in five (21%) mention price-related reasons, and a similar number cite usability issues (such as not knowing how to go online or being physically unable to). Only 6% say that a lack of access or availability is the main reason they don’t go online.

Being a broadband proponent, I have to wonder how we get these people online. Pew added a fact that I found very interesting and may help answer that question…

Most of these non-users have never used the internet before, and don’t have anyone in their household who does. About one in five (21%) say that they know enough about technology to start using the internet on their own, and only one in ten told us that they were interested in using the internet or email in the future.

Interesting to me that there are folks who have never used the Internet. It seems as if once someone spent time online the relevance would become apparently. (Of course I’m projecting.) One way to think about how to get folks online is to look at what the folks who are online are doing. Here are the top 5 activities:

  • Search (92 percent)
  • Email (91 percent)
  • Buy a Product (71 percent)
  • Use Social Networking Sites (64 percent)
  • Bank Online (61 percent)

Perhaps just offering opportunities for folks to check out these tools and applications online would help. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opportunity, I know that the public computer set in the American Legion Hall in Morris MN has gotten people going online (many in the 65+ category). Sometimes guidance is the key; DEED has some (MIRC-sponsored) online training to help get people over the learning curve.

Pew also looks at why folks stay on dialup, the reasons they don’t upgrade – cost is the top issue.

In the spring of 2009, we asked adults who had dial-up internet what it would take for them to switch to a broadband connection at home. A plurality (35%) said the price would have to fall, and 17% said it would have to become available where they live. One in five (20%) said nothing would get them to change.

Perhaps some of the new programs to offer lower cost access to low-income households will help here.

It’s nice to know that we have programs in place to help boost adoption with the 22 percent of American adults who aren’t online. I think the key is getting word to the households who aren’t using it, and haven’t tried it. Many communities have had success working in senior centers. I was in a community broadband planning session in Benton County last summer – and still one of the best ideas I remember was public computers in the launderettes. Go where the people are, when they have time, give them a taste of the Internet and information on how to get more. (I know one group I have not mentioned here is non-English speakers. I’m hoping to have news on programs in other languages soon.)

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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