October 5, 2005

Digital Divisions

Part 1. Internet Access is the Norm, but is not Universal

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 go online.7

Certain groups continue to lag behind: Americans age 65 and older, African-Americans, and those with less education.8 Internet Access, 2000-2005

Some details:

  • 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.

Americans living with a disability and those who do not speak English are also less likely to have access. A 2002 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 38% of Americans living with disabilities have access to the internet. And while our surveys, conducted only in English, consistently find that English-speaking Hispanics are as likely as non-Hispanic whites to use the internet (70% of each group), U.S. Census data shows that access is more unevenly distributed than that. Surveys conducted in Spanish and English in October 2003 found that 37% of Hispanics (age 3 and older) have internet access, compared with 65% of non-Hispanic whites (also age 3 and older).9

The biggest drop-off for internet use is after age 70. About half (53%) of Americans between 60 and 69 years old have internet access, compared with just 22% of those age 70 and older.

In contrast, the technology gap is much less pronounced when looking at cell phone usage. In February 2004, 74% of white American adults said they have a cell phone, compared with 73% of African-American adults. In the same survey, 46% of Americans age 65 and older said they have a cell phone, compared with 75% of those age 50-64, 82% of those age 30-49, and 80% of those age 18-29.10

There continues to be churn in the online population. Still, most people hold on to their internet connections once they get them.

Seventeen percent of non-internet users say that they did at some point use the internet or email, but have since stopped. Most report stopping because they no longer have access, just lost interest, or decided it was too expensive. Many of these “Net Dropouts” are likely to regain access and end up being intermittent users since half are between 18 and 28 years old, the most highly-wired age group. For example, 84% of 18-28 year-olds go online and 87% use a computer on a regular basis. In contrast, 22% of people age 70 and older go online and just 24% use a computer on a regular basis.

Most internet users have 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. By contrast, in 2002, 17% of internet users were newbies and 52% were veteran users. However, online experience is no longer as significant a predictor of online activity, as it was in 2002.11 Internet users who remain on dial-up connections are less likely to go online on a typical day than those who have a fast, broadband connection at home. Further, dial-up users are less likely than broadband users to have used the internet for a host of activities.

Some people choose not to go online, even if there is an active internet connection at home.

Fifteen percent of respondents in our survey who said they were not internet users live with someone who uses the internet or email at home, a slight decline from 2002 when 20% of non-internet users were “Net Evaders.”12 Non-users with children living at home are more likely than others to say they are offline in an online home. It is possible that these families have invested in computers and internet access for their children, though one or more of the adults remain offline.

All told, 73% of adults live in a household with an internet connection, whether or not they go online themselves, and 27% of adults live in a household that does not have an internet connection. Some of those living in “offline” homes may have internet access at work, at school, or some other location.

Few in-roads have been made with Americans who are disconnected from the internet.

Fully 22% of Americans 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. This group is overwhelmingly over the age of 65 and less educated than the rest of the population.

As in previous surveys of those who do not go online, many non-users say they do not want or need the internet.13 For example:

  • 32% of non-users say they are just not interested in going online.
  • 31% of non-users say they simply do not have access.
  • 7% of non-users say they are too busy or think going online is a waste of time.
  • 6% of non-users say getting access is too difficult or frustrating.
  • 5% of non-users say getting access is too expensive.

But there were also unique concerns expressed in the responses recorded by interviewers. For example, some of the reported reasons for not being online include:

  • “Never learned how to use a computer.”
  • “Rather do things in person.”
  • “I hate computers – that’s what’s ruining the world.”
  •  “Because I would become addicted to it.”
  • “Can communicate better by phone where you can hear an actual voice.”
  • “Someone could get access to my personal information.”
  •  “I have the TV and the newspaper and I’m an avid reader.”
  • “Age. I’m 85 and it’s a little too old. If I was younger, I would be very interested.”
  • “I’m blind.”
  • “I don’t like it. I think it’s the devil’s work.”
  •  “I have small children and don’t want them on there.”
  1. Prior to our January 2005 survey, the question used to identify internet users read, “Do you ever go online to access the internet or World Wide Web or to send and receive email?” The current two-part question wording reads, “Do you use the internet, at least occasionally?” and “Do you send or receive email, at least occasionally?”
  2. This chart illustrates representative months for each year, 2000-2005. For detailed information on our historical survey data, please see the “Usage Over Time” spreadsheet on our site: http://www.pewinternet.org/trends.asp
  3. See “A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age” (U.S. Department of Commerce: September 2004). Available at: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/anol/NationOnlineBroadband04.htm
  4. John Horrigan, “Internet and Cell Phone Facts,” (Pew Internet & American Life Project commentary: July 26, 2005). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2005/July/Internet-and-Cell-Phone-Facts.aspx
  5. John Horrigan, “Broadband Adoption at Home in the United States: Growing But Slowing,” (Pew Internet & American Life Project: September 21, 2005). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2005/Broadband-Adoption-in-the-United-States-Growing-but-Slowing.aspx
  6. Amanda Lenhart, John Horrigan, Lee Rainie, Mary Madden, et al., “The Ever-Shifting Internet Population,” (Pew Internet & American Life Project: April 16, 2003). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2003/The-EverShifting-Internet-Population-A-new-look-at-Internet-access-and-the-digital-divide.aspx
  7. Amanda Lenhart, “Who’s Not Online” (Pew Internet & American Life Project: September 21, 2000). Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2000/Whos-Not-Online.aspx