Update on the Digital Divide: the Latest Data from the Pew Research Center Internet Survey

Data is now available from the June 26, 2015 Pew Research Center Internet Survey, Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015.

Below is my summary; however, before you read it, what two groups in America do you think have the lowest Internet access: women, older adults, low-income adults, African-Americans, Latino/Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, those who lack a high school diploma, or those who live in rural areas?

[Write down your answer before you continue reading.]

  • 84% of American adults now use the Internet. In 2000 it was a little over 50%. Note, however, that there has been little or no growth since 2012.
  • Older adults still lag behind. “Older adults have lagged behind younger adults in their adoption, but now a clear majority (58%) of senior citizens uses the internet” and older adults as a group have a faster adoption rate than young adults. (I presume because young adults are already the group most likely to use the Internet.)
  • Education and economic class differences affect access and use. “Those with college educations are more likely than those who do not have high school diplomas to use the internet. Similarly, those who live in households earning more than $75,000 are more likely to be internet users than those living in households earning less than $30,000. Still, the class-related gaps have shrunk dramatically in 15 years as the most pronounced growth has come among those in lower-income households and those with lower levels of educational attainment.” Note: 66% of those who have not completed high school, now use the internet. 74% of those with  household incomes below $30K have Internet access.
  • Racial and ethnic differences still matter but the gap has narrowed. “African-Americans and Hispanics have been somewhat less likely than whites or English-speaking Asian-Americans to be internet users, but the gaps have narrowed. Today, 78% of African-Americans and 81% of Latino/Hispanic-Americans use the internet, compared with 85% of whites and 97% of English-speaking Asian-Americans.
  • Internet access for those in rural areas is still lower but the gap has narrowed. “Those who live in rural areas are less likely than those in the suburbs and urban areas to use the internet.” Only 78% of rural residents are online.
  • Gender. There has been gender parity for fifteen years.

If you wrote “older adults” (58%) and “those who lack a high school diploma” (66%) you’re right; these are the two groups with the lowest rate of Internet access. Although the digital divide has narrowed, for some groups it is still a big problem, and perhaps for people who fit two or more of the gap categories — older, lacking a high school diploma, low family income, residing in a rural area, African-American, Latino/Hispanic American – as many adult basic skills learners do, the gap could be even larger.

Do any of the trends surprise you?

I was surprised that although immigrants are mentioned, “immigrants” is not in itself an Internet access category.

What role do you think adult basic education should play in helping the 34% of those who lack a high school diploma to obtain and prepare for using regular, daily Internet access? For example, should adult basic education (including English language learning) programs:

  • Help adult learners and their families to get low-cost computers and subsidized access to the Internet?
  • Help teachers purchase low-cost Internet hotspots for their classes so that learners with BYO devices or with portable program-owned devices such as laptops, Chromebooks or digital tablets can access the Internet in class?
  • Teach digital literacy, and problem solving skills in the context of technology-rich environments?
  • Purchase and loan portable digital devices to students?
  • Collaborate with local public libraries who could purchase and lend portable digital devices?
  • Advocate for legislation that narrows the digital divide adult basic skills learners, for example, by providing free Internet hotspots in all low-income communities?
  • What else?

Please reply below with your thoughts about what roles adult basic education should take on to help narrow the digital divide for adult learners.

Consider sharing this blog article with your colleagues, and in your organization’s newsletter, but if you do, please let me know.  Thanks.

David J. Rosen


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3 Responses to “Update on the Digital Divide: the Latest Data from the Pew Research Center Internet Survey”

  1. Eunice Snay Says:

    David: What I wrote down before reading the full article was access and affordability in rural areas. It wasn’t one of the top answers but I think EveryoneOn can help with access and making it more affordable. What I would like to see EveryoneOn do is collaborate more with cell phone providers on making data plans more affordability. There was an NPR segment on saying that even those low income users that have cell phones use them differently: they use then for picture taking, texting and making calls because they don’t have high enough usage on their data plans to view video such as YouTube – one of the highest used search engines and ways many learn new skills.

    I also think ABE Programs can promote BYOD for students that have devices but fill in with equipment for those student that don’t have devices so that nobody is left out.

    By putting devices into the hands of students without a high school diploma and older Americans will greatly lead toward Digital Literacy of this population. Along with examples and an explanation of why they would want to use the devices. Also by encouraging the use of support and training is is currently available through the public library systems and adult education programs.

    Euncie Snay
    System Adult Basic Education Support [SABES] PD Center Distance Learning and Technology Support Manager

  2. Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt Says:

    Hi David,
    I’ve read the previous Pew studies on this topic, and it seems the trends have remained much the same. The thing that surprised me in previous surveys was not who isn’t online, but why. When asked that question, a large proportion of respondents replied with something along the lines of “there’s nothing there for me.” “Can’t afford it,” was not a high-rated reason for not subscribing. So, the gap isn’t just an access gap, it’s a knowledge gap. We can help with that by showing adult learners where to find web content that’s relevant to their lives. They will start to develop digital literacy skills if they find content that they just can’t live without. Motivation is a powerful learning device.

    Also, content providers can help by making web content more accessible to adults with lower literacy levels. Much of the content on the web is written at a very high literacy level, and so adults who complain that there’s nothing there for them are not completely wrong; if they aren’t strong readers, there really is less content for them.


  3. djrosen Says:

    Good additions, Susan. For adult learners who don’t think there is anything for them on the Internet, including adults with low-level reading skills, there are (increasingly useful) free YouTube and other videos that might have content relevant to their interests and needs.

    You will find some good examples of useful and/or interesting reading content for low-skilled readers at http://home.comcast.net/~djrosen/newsome/litlist/websites.html#easyreading. (Please note that I will be moving this web page to a new location sometime before October, 2015. If you wish, you can email me to request the new web address.) If you — or others — have suggestions to add to this list, please let me know.

    David J. Rosen


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