September 17, 2010

Technology Trends Among People of Color

On September 16, 2010 Pew Internet Project Senior Research Specialist Aaron Smith spoke to the Center for American Progress Internet Advocacy Roundtable about three trends in minority technology use. The outline of his discussion (along with links to the relevant research) is posted below.

One of the themes of the Q&A involved the challenges in studying the Asian-American population. For an overview of some of these challenges (along with other sources of useful data) see our blog post on the topic.

Trend #1: The internet and broadband populations have become more diverse over the last decade, although key disparities do remain

We’ve been measuring internet use and broadband adoption since early 2000, and the general story with respect to race and ethnicity is one of narrowing gaps combined with continuing disparities.

Over the last decade the internet population has come to much more closely resemble the racial composition of the population as a whole. Between 2000 and 2010 the proportion of internet users who are black or Latino has nearly doubled—from 11% to 21%. At the same time, African-Americans remain somewhat less likely than whites to go online.

Similarly, African Americans have made up substantial ground in the last year when it comes to home broadband adoption. However, even with these gains they continue to trail whites in broadband use at home. They are also quite a bit less likely than whites to own a desktop computer—51% of African-American adults do so, compared with 65% of whites.

English-speaking Latinos are almost identical to whites in their use of the internet and home broadband; however, foreign-born and Spanish-dominant Latinos dramatically trail not only whites but also native / English-speaking Latinos on both points. Indeed, language proficiency is one of the most powerful predictors of internet use, even controlling for other demographic factors.

Trend #2: Access to the digital world is increasingly being untethered from the desktop, and this is especially true for people of color

The story I’ve been telling so far is one where minorities either trail (or are at parity with) whites, but the story is much different when we look at the use of mobile technologies—especially mobile phones. Both blacks and English-speaking Latinos are more likely to own a mobile phone than whites. Foreign-born Latinos trail their Native-born counterparts in cell phone ownership, but this gap is significantly smaller than the gap in internet use between these groups.

Moreover, minority adults use a much wider range of their cell phones’ capabilities. Compared with white cell phone owners, blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to use their mobile devices to:

  • Text message (70% of all African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos use text messaging, vs. just over half of whites)
  • Use social networking sites
  • Use the internet
  • Record and watch videos
  • Make a charitable donation via text message (this finding is particularly interesting since white internet users are more likely to have made a charitable donation online—25% of online whites have done so, compared with 17% of African-Americans and 14% of Latinos.)
  • Use email
  • Play games
  • Listen to music
  • Use instant messaging
  • Post multimedia content online

This move towards a mobile world can also be seen in our computer ownership trends. Although African-Americans are significantly less likely than whites to own a desktop computer, all three groups now have equal levels of laptop ownership (roughly half of all three groups do so). This parity in black laptop ownership is actually a fairly recent development—laptop ownership by African-Americans rose fairly dramatically over the last year (from 34% in 2009 to 51% now).

Minority Americans are comparable to whites in their ownership of mp3 players (around half in each group do so) and are slightly more likely to own a game console (around half of black/latinos own such a device, vs. around 40% of whites). Around one in three console owners uses their gaming device to go online, a figure that is consistent across racial/ethnic groups.

Trend #3: Minority internet users don’t just use the social web at higher rates, their attitudes towards these tools differ as well

Minority adults also outpace whites in their use of social technologies. Among internet users, seven in ten blacks and English-speaking Latinos use social networking sites—significantly higher than the six in ten whites who do so. Indeed, nearly half of black internet users go to a social networking site on a typical day. Just one third of white internet users do so on a daily basis.

The same is true for status update services like Twitter—one quarter of online African-Americans use these services, significantly higher than the 15% of white internet users who do so (English-speaking Latinos are right in the middle, with 20% of such internet users using these sites).

Minority attitudes towards social media also diverge notably from those of whites. For example, minority Americans were very active using social technologies to share information during the 2008 election campaign. And when we asked about government outreach using social media, minority respondents were significantly more likely than whites to say that this type of outreach “helps people be more informed about what government is doing” and “makes government more accessible”. They are also much more likely than whites to say it is “very important” for government agencies to post information and alerts on social networking sites.

Minority Americans are also relatively likely to use digital technologies to keep up with what’s happening in their neighborhoods. This is especially true of folks who don’t know many of their neighbors by name—tools such as blogs, social networking sites and neighborhood listservs can serve as valuable tools for keeping up with local issues.