Brief session description:
Thursday, July 14, 2016 – Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Internet, Science and Technology Project, shared insights and statistical data related to emerging trends in Internet use nationally and globally. Read the print story and see video highlights on this page. You can view the full, archived video of Rainie’s talk here.
Details of the session:
Household income, education and race are the leading indicators of the digital divide in broadband access and connectivity in the United States in 2016, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet, Science and Technology Project.
Over 90 percent of those who make $50,000 or more are Internet users in the U.S., according to the latest Pew Research information. “Household income matters,” Rainie said. “Those who are poor are less likely to be online than those who are richer. But the good news is that more poor people are getting access.”
Trends over the past decade consistently show a rise in the number of low-income people online. Those who are making less than $30,000 are getting online for personal or professional reasons, and two-thirds of American homes, 67 percent, have broadband access.
The numbers increase when it comes to mobile connectors. Smartphone usage is a driving factor of connectivity across the economic spectrum. About 80 percent of teenagers have smartphones, as do 69 percent of U.S. adults.
In total, 77 percent of American adults now access the Internet with a mobile device. The more a household earns, the more likely those people are to connect via mobile. Pew’s research shows that 96 percent of households earning $150,000 or more are likely to be mobile users. When income drops to $30,000 or less, though, the percentage drops to 67.
“People have multiple points of access the higher their income gets,” Rainie said, referencing broadband, mobile and smartphone connectivity.
Those with more education tend go online more
It’s not just household income that influences individuals’ investment Internet access. Education also impacts Internet usage in American society.
“If you know someone’s level of education, you know a lot more about them than their level of income,” Rainie said. “Those who have college degrees or higher are very, very likely to have smartphones.”
Ninety-six percent of adult Internet users by education are college graduates. However there is a positive trend: Internet usage has steadily increased in the past 15 years among people in every category of level of education.
Racial divides also show in primary use of mobile vs. broadband
Race and ethnicity combine to form the third spoke of the connectivity puzzle. Pew’s research indicates that the highest users of Internet by race are English-speaking Asian Americans. “If you are black or Hispanic you are specifically less likely to use broadband, but those gaps go away in mobile connectivity,” Rainie said.
Hispanics are the most-likely racial group to use mobile connections, at 79 percent, followed by blacks at 77 percent and whites at 76 percent. Rainie said racial differences in use of a primary connecting platform matters. Broadband connections via a laptop or desktop computer usually offer more capabilities for participation in the sharing of knowledge that can’t necessarily be completed on a wireless smartphone, certainly not as easily.
“If you have a smartphone only, you struggling more to do what you need to do, than if you are on a wireless device,” Rainie explained.
Differences across age, regional groups noted
Rainie said 87 percent of Americans are online; 97 percent of 18-29-year-olds; 95 percent of 30-49-year-olds; 83 percent of 50-64-year-olds and 66 percent of those 65 and older. Older people who do not use the Internet much if at all often say they prefer older, 20th-century forms of being informed.
“A lot of older people are prodded to go online by kids or grandkids,” Rainie said. He said he often hears that the younger generation inspires older relatives to get online by saying, “If you want pictures of me then you have to friend me on Facebook.”
Regional and territorial differences also play into Americans’ connectivity to the Internet. Rural and remote areas have been less likely to be wired, often due to economic factors, but progress is seen in the statistics over time. “It is a fairly encouraging story that almost 80 percent of rural residents are online,” Rainie said, adding, “Mobile connectivity is less likely to occur in rural areas than urban or suburban areas.”
Disabilities and language preferences are often concerns impacting those who have challenges in accessing the Internet. Those with disabilities are nearly 30 percent less likely to use the Internet compared to all adults already using the Internet according to Pew Research data.
Overall, for Americans who are not going online regularly, Rainie said, “It’s partly a struggle about ‘Are these digital tools really useful and usable?’”
American majority connecting via mobile today
He pointed out that changes in the ways Americans connect are underway. Home broadband has plateaued because many of the newly connecting folks are going with a mobile device only. Paying for a mobile plan plus home broadband is quite expensive in the U.S. – amounting to hundreds of dollars per month. In 2013, 70 percent of homeowners were plugged in with broadband access, but in 2015, 67 percent of adults have home broadband.
Rainie said the Internet is always a changing story. There are those who do not want to connect and fear a shift toward wireless connectivity. Thirteen percent of adults have a smartphone, but no home broadband. Seven percent are totally “smartphone dependent.” This is especially true for young adults, Rainie says.
“It is clear the smartphone is important for Internet access,” Rainie said. “Learning new stuff from these technologies isn’t always the first thing on these people’s minds.”
Among the reasons people cite for not having broadband: 21 percent say they are just not interested and 13 percent of Americans don’t own a computer.
Privacy post-Edward Snowden is a concern often raised by those who say they are withdrawing from online participation. “There’s a new layer of concerns people have about privacy and trust,” Rainie explained. “They are concerned about what happens after information is collected and what third parties get it.
“This is an evolving story and the evolution continues.”
– By Ashley Bohle
The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2016 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:
Bryan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Elizabeth Bilka, Ashley Bohle, Courtney Campbell, Colin Donohue, Melissa Douglas, Mackenzie Dunn, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Rachel Ellis, Caroline Hartshorn, Paul LeBlanc, Emmanuel Morgan, Joey Nappa, Diego Pineda Davila, Alyssa Potter, Kailey Tracy, Andrew Steinitz, Anna Zwingelberg