August 24, 2005

Teens Who Don’t Use the Internet

We released a report recently that described the online teen population, which is made up of 87% of teens according to polling we conducted towards the end of 2004. Read the full report here.

Clearly, the teenage population is pushing forward internet usage, and if any subgroup of the U.S. population approaches full penetration first, it may very well be those who haven’t yet left home—America’s youth.

But even with this overwhelming majority of online teens, there are about three million youth between ages 12 and 17 who do not use the internet. What about the 13% of teens who aren’t online?

Unfortunately, when only 13% of an already small subgroup of the U.S. population fit the profile we seek, it is hard to get a big enough sample of these offline teens without spending a very large sum of money. In our national phone survey of 1,100 teens, only 129 respondents were in this non-user category. With a sample this small the statistical analysis that may be done on the data is very limited.

Still, we can give some insights as long as readers treat the results with caution. We don’t want to make great claims about how our sample applies to the larger population, but we see some tendencies in the data that fit a “common sense” understanding of what’s going on.

In our sample, non-users of the internet among teens tend to be younger and poorer than the pool of internet users. Non-users seem to be more likely to live in households where the adults do not use the internet and where the adults are less likely to have a college education.

These are the basic contours of our non-user sample:

  • 56% are boys; 44% are girls.
  • 68% are 12-14 years old; 32% are 15-17 years old.
  • 67% are white; 33% are non-white.
  • 25% are urban residents; 42% are suburban residents; 33% are rural residents.
  • 35% live in households with an annual income below $30,000; 65% live in households with an annual income of $30,000 or more.
  • 67% have parents who have no college education; 32% have parents who have some college education.
  • 72% have parents who are married; 28% have parents who are unmarried.
  • 55% have a parent who is an internet user; 45% have a parent who is not an internet user.

    In comparison, data on online teens show that:

  • 51% of internet-using teens are boys, 49% are girls.
  • 46% of internet users are 12-14 and 54% are 15-17.
  • 72% of online teens are white, 28% are not white.
  • 28% of online teens live in urban areas, 47% live in the suburbs and 25% are rural residents.
  • 42% of online teens’ parents have no college education and 58% do.
  • 87% internet-using teens have married parents, and 13% have unmarried parents.
  • 83% of online teens have internet-using parents, and 17% have parents who do not go online.

    It is also interesting to note that of this 13% of teen non-internet users, about half told us that they had used the internet at some point previously and had since stopped, and about half told us that they were interested in becoming internet users at some point in the future. This indicates that there may always be a part of the population who are not currently internet users but have been in the past or might again be in the future.

    Few other groups have been able to describe these populations in great detail. Our colleagues at the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report in March of 2005 that provided a very rich description of media in the lives of pre-teens and teens. They too reported that most teens are online; 96% of their respondents indicated that they had ever been online or used the internet. And their small number of non-internet users was fairly demographically similar to ours.

    Mary Madden and Amanda Lenhart contributed to this entry.