October 5, 2005

Digital Divisions

There are clear differences among those with broadband connections, dial-up connections, and no connections at all to the internet.

Two-thirds of American adults go online and one-third do not.

As of May-June 2005, 68% of American adults, or about 137 million people, use the internet, up from 63% one year ago. Thirty-two percent of American adults, or about 65 million people, do not use the internet and not always by choice. Certain groups continue to lag in their internet adoption, including Americans age 65 and older, African-Americans, and those with less education. For example:

  • 26% of Americans age 65 and older go online, compared with 67% of those age 50-64, 80% of those age 30-49, and 84% of those age 18-29.
  • 57% of African-Americans go online, compared with 70% of whites.
  • 29% of those who have not graduated from high school have access, compared with 61% of high school graduates and 89% of college graduates.
  • 60% of American adults who do not have a child living at home go online, compared with 83% of parents of minor children.

“Newbies” have become a rare species.

Most internet users have many years of online experience, even if there have been gaps in their usage. Indeed, “newbies,” those who have had access for one year or less, now account for just 6% of the overall American adult internet population. Fully 79% of internet users have now had access for four years or more. In contrast, in 2002, 17% of internet users were newbies and 52% were veterans, with four or more years of experience.

The percentage of “truly disconnected” has remained stable in the last three years.

One in five American adults (22%) say they have never used the internet or email and do not live in internet-connected households. These truly disconnected adults occupy essentially the same percentage of the population as in 2002, when 23% of American adults said they have never used the internet and do not live with anyone who has access.

Different access speeds create a new divide among internet users. And connection speed is a more important factor in internet use than experience.

Fifty-three percent of internet users now have a high-speed connection at home, up from 21% of internet users in 2002. Not surprisingly, the groups who were initially most likely to lag in adopting the internet now lag in access speeds. Those with less education, those with lower household incomes, and Americans age 65 and older are less likely to have embraced broadband than those who are younger and have higher socio-economic status.

Previously, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that internet experience – the number of years a person had been online – was a major predictor of both the frequency of internet use and the activities pursued online. Now that a majority of the internet’s heaviest users have upgraded from dial-up to high-speed access at home, broadband access is becoming a stronger predictor of online behavior than a user’s level of experience.

One way to look at internet access in the U.S. is to split adults into three tiers – the truly offline (22% of American adults); those with relatively more modest connections, such as dial-up users, intermittent users, and non-users who live with an internet user (40%); and the highly-wired broadband elite (33%).

Digital Divisions: Summary of Findings at a Glance

Cite this publication: Susannah Fox. “Digital Divisions.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 5, 2005) http://www.pewinternet.org/2005/10/05/digital-divisions/, accessed on July 23, 2014.