November 17, 2002

Parents Online

Parents Online

In this report, we present a synthesis of several years of findings from our general research on the impact of the Internet on Americans. The material has been gathered from numerous surveys that the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted with American adults and teenagers.

Parents are more wired

We have consistently found that parents with children under 18 are more likely to have used the Internet than non-parents. (In our surveys, non-parents are those who do not have a minor child living at home.) In our survey from October 7-27, we found that 70% of the U.S. parents with a child under age 18 use the Internet, compared to 53% of non-parents. That means there are almost 45 million online parents in the United States today, and they make up 43% of all U.S. Internet users.1

Our October survey also showed that parents are generally more enthusiastic about technology and less burdened by technological change than non-parents. For instance, parents, whether they use the Internet or not, are more apt than non-parents to say they like all the information that is available today from all kinds of media. Similarly, parents are also more likely than non-parents to say they like computers and technology and to assert that technology tools give them more control over their lives. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to own cell phones, DVD players, and pagers.

One strong incentive for parents to have Internet access is for their children. The vast majority of parents believe that their children need to know about computers and the Internet in order to succeed. Not surprisingly, parents who do not have access are more likely than non-parents to show interest in going online eventually.

Yet, parents are less fervent Internet users than wired non-parents

Parents are less likely than non-parents to use the Internet on a typical day. In a survey in September, we found that 54% of the parents with Internet access were online on an average day, compared with 60% of the non-parents who have Internet access. Parents also go online less frequently than non-parents. In September, 44% of the connected parents said they went online at least once a day from home, compared to 53% of non-parents who have Internet access at home.

In earlier surveys, we found that even when parents go online, they are likely to spend somewhat less time using the Internet on a typical session than non-parents are. For instance, in March 2000 we found that a parent spent an average of 81 minutes online during an average day’s worth of Internet use compared to an average 94 minutes for a non-parent’s sessions. In subsequent surveys we found the gap fluctuated from 7 minutes to 15 minutes, but always favored non-parents.

Parents are more likely to access health, lifestyle-enhancing, and religious information

Online parents show more interest than non-parents in getting health and medical information from the Web. Parents are more likely than non-parents to look at several sites during their searches, but they are less vigilant than non-parents in checking the source and sponsorship of the information. In addition, parents are more likely than non-parents to have used the Internet to gather religious information. Here are some of the other ways parents’ online behavior differs from non-parents:

  • Online parents are more likely than wired non-parents to do research for school or training or research for their jobs.
  • Parents are more likely than non-parents to participate in online banking.
  • Parents are more likely than non-parents to use the Internet to contact a local community group or association, a support group, or a religious organization.
  • Parents are more likely than non-parents to say the Internet played a role in their finding a new place to live, dealing with a medical condition (their own or a loved one’s), and starting a hobby.

A family helper for some

Use of the Internet has hardly revolutionized the activities of parenthood. Online parents generally use the Internet as one of the technology tools that helps them get through their lives – not just as parents, but also as friends, work colleagues, consumers, hobbyists, and generally as information seekers and contributors. The impact of the Internet on life inside their homes is relatively modest. Asked in December 2000 about the impact of Internet use on some of the core activities of family life:

  • 34% of online parents said their use of the Internet improves the way they plan weekend outings and family trips.
  • 27% said it improves the way they shop for birthday and holiday gifts.
  • 26% said it improves the way they spend time with their children.
  • 19% said it improves the way they care for their children’s health.

A life helper for many

In some other surveys, online parents were relatively enthusiastic about the way their Internet use affected their lives. In March 2001, we found:

  • 73% of online parents said their use of the Internet helped them learn new things.
  • 61% said their use of the Internet improved the way they connect with friends.
  • 52% said their use of the Internet improved the way they connect with members of their family.
  • 42% said their use of the Internet improved the way they shop.
  • 41% said their use of the Internet improved the way they get health care information.
  • 41% said their use of the Internet improved their ability to do their jobs.
  • 22% said their use of the Internet improved the way they manage their personal finances.
  • 22% said their use of the Internet improved their ability to find ways to deal with problems in their lives.

Single parents are less Internet-connected than married parents

Our March-May 2002 survey showed that 58% of single parents use the Internet, compared with 71% of married parents. About 6.5 million single parents in the United States go online; about 4 million of these are single mothers. Single parents tend to have less Internet experience than married parents, but they access the Internet about as often as married parents do. Single fathers go online more often than single mothers.

Single parents use the Internet to communicate; married parents use it to research

Single parents are more likely than married parents to take part in Internet activities that revolve around communication, such as instant messaging, chat rooms, and posting to bulletin boards. Married parents are more likely to participate in research-oriented online activities, such as looking for financial and health information.

Mothers are looking for health information; fathers are looking for news and leisure

There are 24 million online mothers and 21 million online fathers in the United States. Mothers tend to be newer to the Internet and to spend less time online. Fathers are more likely to go online from both work and home, and mothers are more likely to go online just from home.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to seek medical, fitness, weight-loss and spiritual information. Fathers are more likely than mothers to look for information about a hobby, visit news and government Web sites, and look for financial information.

  1. The survey involved 1,677 phone interviews across the nation. The general sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 points. There were 1,027 Internet users interviewed in this survey and the margin of error for the Internet-only part of the survey is plus or minus 3.5 points. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of March 2000 there are 63.75 million adults living with related minor children.