August 27, 2003

Internet Use by Region in the U.S.

Part 5. The South

The South has the nation’s least experienced Internet user population, and has the highest proportion of novice users.

Users in the seven Southern states (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas) stand out against those elsewhere in the nation for several reasons:

  • The South has the lowest rate of Internet access of any region in the United States. In 2002, only 48% of Southern adults use the Internet, well below the national rate of 59%, and the only region of the country below 50%.
  • In just about every demographic category, whether it be income, age, education, Southerners are less likely to use the Internet than their peers.
  • The region has one of the largest proportions of African-American users in the country, 14%, compared with a national average of 8%.
  • Surfing the Web is one of the South’s favorite Internet activities, and users there are among the most prolific surfers in the country.
  • Users in the South are also the most likely to have sought health information on the Web.
  • Getting news online is particularly popular in the South, where 63% of Internet users have done so at one time or another.
  • While many Southerners think the Internet has been a positive force in their family relationships, 35% say it has made no improvement—the greatest disagreement in any area of the country.

The South is the least wired region in the country.

The South has always been the country’s least wired region, and that trend continued in 2002, where only 48% of adults reported they were Internet users, compared to the national average of 59%. As in both 2001 and 2000, Internet penetration in the South was below 50% (46% in 2001 and 40% in 2000), while nationally, it was 56% in 2001 and 50% in 2000.

It is important to note that the relative non-use of the Internet in the Southern states, when compared to the national averages, cuts across every demographic group – race, income, education, and gender. While some gaps are more pronounced than others, it can be said that Southerners of every stripe are less likely to be online than their peers.

Who is online in the South?

The South has the nation’s least experienced Internet user population, as well as the country’s highest proportion of novice users. In 2001, about 36% of Southern users were veterans with three or more years’ experience online, about 8 percentage points lower than the national average of 44%. The next smallest proportion of veteran users can be found in the Upper Midwest, where 40% of users have been online for three or more years. In contrast, the user population in the National Capital region, which is dominated by experienced users, is 50% veteran users. In the South, an additional 36% of users have been online for two to three years, and this group has the most typical level of experience of all users in the region. About 17% have been online for about a year, and 11% are Internet rookies with six months’ or less Web experience. These 27% of users with a year or less online make up the largest proportion of such users in the country, and the 11% of users who are rookies also form the largest such group in the United States.

By comparison, 22% of users across the country have a year or so of online experience; 8% have been online for less than six months. Only the Southeast rivals the South in the inexperience of its user population – about 26% of users in the Southeast have been online for a year or so, and 7% have six months or less of Web use. In contrast, only 16% of users in the country’s most Internet-savvy area, the Capital region, have been online for a year or less, and only 5% have six months or less on the Web.

Southern users have the country’s lowest levels of education and household income.

In general, Internet access correlates highly with education and household income levels and this is true in the South.  About 28% of Internet users in the South have a college diploma or higher degree, which is 8 percentage points lower than the national average. This is also by far the lowest proportion of college-educated users of any region in the country – the next lowest proportion can be found in the Border States, where 31% of Internet users have a college diploma. In the most highly educated region in the country, New England, 41% of Internet users have college diplomas. Meanwhile, 30% of users in the South have some college experience, an additional 36% have a high school education but no more, and about 6% of users have less than a high school education. Of note is that the South has the highest proportion of users with just a high school education – nationally, about 29% of users have a similar level of education. Meanwhile, Southerners at every education level are less likely to go online than similarly educated users nationwide. The gap is most pronounced with Southerners who do not have high school diplomas – 14% of them are online, compared to 22% of similarly educated Americans nationwide. College educated Southerners are also much less likely to use the Internet.

In terms of household income, Southern users tend to be poorer than their peers across the country. About 18% of users in the South earn more than $75,000 a year, a number notably under the national average of 23%, and tied with the Mountain states for having the smallest cohorts of such users in the country. At the other end of the income spectrum, 21% of users in the South have modest household incomes under $30,000 a year, which is slightly higher than the national average of 19%, but is still one of the largest of any region in the country. The Border States have the largest cohort of such users (22%). Overall, Southerners earning less than $30,000 a year are much less likely to use the Internet than other Americans with the same income – 30% of Southerners versus 38% overall. Meanwhile, a quarter of Southern users earn household incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 a year and another 20% earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. Nationally, 22% and 18% take home the same amounts respectively.12

The South has one of the largest groups of African-American users in the country. Women in the South are less likely to be online than women elsewhere.

About 14% of Southern users are black, compared with 8% nationally. Only the Southeast (15%) and the National Capital (17%) have larger proportions of African-American Internet users. Meanwhile, 80% of the users in the South are white, 4% are Hispanic,13 and about 3% are of other races. Nationally, whites make up 78% of the user population, Hispanics represent about 9%, and other races make up about 5%.

Women in the South are less likely to be online than women elsewhere.

The gender mix of the Internet user population in the South is weighted slightly toward men. Men make up 53% of the regional user population; women make up 47%. The national ratio is 50-50. Women in the South are much less likely to be online than women nationwide. Only 42% of women in the South use the Internet, as compared to 54% of women nationally. There is also a yawning gap among men, with 52% of Southern men online, compared with 59% of men nationwide.

The age breakdown of the Southern user population mirrors the national breakdown. In the South, about 15% of Internet users are young adults between 18 and 24; a little under a quarter (24%) are between 25 and 34; about 25% are between 35 and 44; 21% are between 45 and 54; and 15% are over the age of 55. The South does have one of the smallest proportions of seniors over 65 using the Internet – 3%. The Capital region and the Mid-Atlantic also have a tiny proportion of senior citizens online.

About 69% of users in the South hold down full-time employment, slightly higher than the national average of 64%. An additional 11% of Southern users work part-time.

For the most part, users in the South share the same fervor for Internet activities as their peers in other regions of the country.

However, there are some notable differences in the online behavior of Southerners.

Surfing the Web just for fun is one of Southerners’ favorite Internet activities, and users there are more likely to engage in this than users in most other regions. A little over two-thirds (67%) of users in the South said they go online “just for fun,” 6 percentage points higher than the national average. Only users in the Midwest (70%) are more likely to go online for this reason. At the other end of the scale less than half (49%) of users in the Pacific Northwest say they go online without a particular reason.

Users in the South are also the most likely to seek health information on the Internet. This activity, one of the Web’s most popular, has been pursued by about 56% of users across the country at one time or another, whereas three-fifths (61%) of Web users in the South have looked online for information related to their health. By comparison, only 49% of users in the Pacific Northwest have done so, the smallest proportion in the country.

The Net has quickly become the place to go to answer a question, no matter what the subject. Consequently, this activity has become one of the most popular on the Web, and 75% of users nationally have gone online at one time or another to look for an answer. Users in the South are just as likely as their peers to use the Internet for this purpose. A similar 75% of Southern users have done so. Users in New England (89%) and the Pacific Northwest (80%) are the most likely to go online looking for an answer to a question.

Email is by far the most popular activity on the Internet, and 88% of users across the country use email. Those online in the South are just as fervent about email, and 87% use it. Meanwhile, about 63% of users in the South have gotten the news online; 41% have looked for financial information; about 42% use the Internet at their jobs for research purposes; 78% have used the Internet to get information about their hobby; and about 43% have bought a product online. These are in line with the national averages.

However, there are some notable region-to-region differences. Getting the news online is one of the more popular activities for users in the South, and the 63% who have done so represent one of the largest proportions in the country. By comparison, only 53% of users in the Pacific Northwest have gotten news from a Web site, the smallest proportion of any region in the country.

Southerners are the least likely Americans to log on every day. On a typical day, about half (51%) of Internet users in the South will log on to the Internet, well under the national average of 57% of users. This rate of daily access is the lowest of any region in the country, and reflects the relative inexperience of the Southern Internet population – we have found that more experienced users are more likely to log on to the Internet on a daily basis. In two regions with very experienced Internet populations, the Pacific Northwest and New England, 63% and 60% of users go online respectively on a typical day. The rate of daily usage in the South is by far the lowest – the next lowest rate is in the Southeast, where 55% of users are online on an average day.

Southerners follow the national pattern: they log on from home and spend an average amount of time online.

When users in the South want to log on from home, they overwhelmingly do so via a standard dial-up connection. About 86% do so, compared with the national average of 82%. About 9% access the Internet via a cable modem, while another 2% have a DSL hookup. Nationally, about 10% of users have cable modems, and another 5% use DSL. The proportion of DSL use in the South is the smallest of any region in the country.

Internet users generally log on to the Web either from home or from the workplace. Nationally, about 86% of users go online at home, and about 50% use the Internet while at work. In the South, about 83% of Internet users have accessed the Net from home and about 48% have done so from their workplace.

On a typical day, about 75% of those Southerners go online will do so from home, a rate equal to the national average of 76%. Meanwhile, 41% of Southerners who use the Internet on an average day will go online in the workplace, equaling the national average.

About 60% of Southern users say they go online at least once a day – about a third (34%) do so several times a day. Nationally, about 37% go online several times a day, and 63% log on to the Internet at least once a day. Of the rest of the Southern users who access the Web less often, about 16% go online about three to five times a week; another 12% go online once or twice a week; and about 8% log on less often than that. Those proportions are almost the same as the national averages (16% go online 3-5 times a week, 12% log on once or twice a week, and about 6% go online less often than that).

When users go online on a typical day, about 62% will spend about an hour or less in cyberspace – 26% will spend thirty minutes or less and 36% will spend thirty minutes to an hour on the Web. In the South, 68% of Internet users will stay online for about an hour on an average day. About 28% will stay online for thirty minutes or less and 40% will stay online for about thirty minutes to an hour. An additional 7% will spend an hour to two hours online; 11% will stay on the Web for two to three hours; 4% will log on for three to fours hours on a typical day; and 10% are heavy users who spend more than fours online a day. These proportions are similar to the national averages.

Southerners find that access to online health-care information improves their overall ability to manage their health.  In March 2000, users were asked several questions about the extent to which the Internet had helped them improve some aspect of their daily life – shopping, getting health information, managing their finances, making connections to family and friends, learning new things, and pursuing a hobby.

As noted above, Southern Internet users are strong consumers of health-care information online. It follows, then, that those users believe that being able to access online health-care information has had a positive impact on their overall ability to manage their health. Nationally, 36% of Internet users say the Internet has improved their ability to get health-care information either a lot or somewhat. In the South, 43% say that this is the case. Another 14% say there has been “a little” improvement because of the Internet.

Using the Internet to aid in the pursuit of a hobby is a common activity. As noted above, 78% of users in the South have logged on to the Web because of a hobby. These users are pretty enthusiastic about what the Internet has been able to do to help them pursue their pastimes – 57% said that going online had helped a lot or somewhat. By comparison, 50% of users nationally said the same thing.

Nationally, 79% of Internet users say the Net has helped them learn new things. In the South, 84% of users say the same thing – one of the most enthusiastic responses in the country. Only the 85% of users in the Capital region are more enthusiastic.

Southerners agree with other Americans that the Internet has had a positive impact on their family relationships and friendships.

For the most part, users across the country agree that the Internet has been a positive force in their relationships with members of their family as well as their friends. Southern users agree. About 29% of users in the South said that the Internet had improved their connections to their family a lot, while another 22% saw some improvement. Interestingly, 35% of Southerners said that the Internet had not improved their relationships with other members of their family – the highest proportion to say so of any region in the country. Nationally, about 29% of Internet users said the same thing.

Users in the South are more likely to credit the Internet when it comes to their relationships with their friends. About 63% said that communicating via the Web had improved connections to their friends either a lot or somewhat. Nationally, about 61% said the same thing. Meanwhile, only 22% of Southern users noted no improvement, about the same proportion as Internet users nationally.

Southerners are less enthusiastic about shopping or getting financial information online.

Southern users have the sentiment, shared by many of their peers, that the Internet has not been of particular use in managing their finances. In the South, 60% of users said that going online had not improved the way they managed their finances at all. Nationally, 59% of users said the same thing. Only 24% of Southern users noted much improvement, which is about the same as the 27% of users across the country that said the same thing.

While shopping online is frequently cited as one of the most popular activities online, only 45% of users nationally have bought something online. Users are also ambivalent about whether or not the Internet has helped their ability to shop. About 34% of users said that the Internet helped either a lot or somewhat their ability to buy things. At the same time, about 44% said that they had seen no improvement at all. Users in the South tend to agree with this assessment. About 36% said they noted some or a lot of improvement in their shopping ability due to the Internet, and only 13% noted a lot of improvement. Meanwhile, 44% of Southerners online said the Internet had done nothing for their shopping ability.

The demographics of the Southern Internet population remained about the same between 2000 and 2001.

There was a moderate increase in the number of high school graduates into the Internet population, most likely reflecting the entrance of recent high school graduates who had first logged as teens. There was also a small increase in the proportion of African-Americans in the user population.

In terms of online activities, the proportions of Southern users doing certain things online fluctuated over time. There were some small increases in activities and some small decreases. There was a small increase in the proportion of users getting news online, already a popular activity among Southern users. On the other hand, the proportions of users doing job research and those going online “just for fun” fell moderately from 2000. There were also small drops in the percentages of users buying products online as well as using the Internet to find the answer to a particular question.

There were some changes in usage patterns among Internet users in the South between 2000 and 2001 as well. There was an increase in the proportion of users accessing the Web from the home, but a small decrease in the percentage of home users logging on during a typical day.

Some popular Web sites in the South

The table below lists the top five Web sites in Nashville in April 2003. Those sites are also the top five in the nation and they do not vary much region-by-region. In addition, the table highlights several regional sites that are in the top 25 most heavily used sites in the region during that month. A full listing of the top 25 sites in the region can be found in the spreadsheet that is available here: http://www.pewinternet.org/releases/release.asp?id=66

Some of Nashville’s Favorite Web sites
  1. 15% of respondents refused to divulge their household income. Of the entire sample, 17% of respondents refused to answer this question.
  2. Hispanics are self-identified and speak English. Hispanics referred to in this report were surveyed as part of the Pew Project’s general daily tracking poll. Hispanics who speak English tend to skew higher in terms of Internet use.