June 26, 2015

Americans’ Internet Access:
2000-2015

As internet use nears saturation for some groups, a look at patterns of adoption

Main Findings

The Pew Research Center’s unit studying the internet and society began systematically measuring internet adoption among Americans in 2000. Since then, Pew Research has conducted 97 national surveys of adults that have documented how the internet has become an integral part of everyday life across diverse parts of society.

84% of American Adults Use the Internet

Year Percent
2000 52%
2001 55%
2002 59%
2003 61%
2004 63%
2005 68%
2006 71%
2007 74%
2008 74%
2009 76%
2010 76%
2011 79%
2012 83%
2013 84%
2014 84%
2015 84%

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

A new analysis of 15 years-worth of data highlights several key trends: For some groups, especially young adults, those with high levels of education, and those in more affluent households, internet penetration is at full saturation levels. For other groups, such as older adults, those with less educational attainment, and those living in lower-income households, adoption has historically been lower but rising steadily, especially in recent years. At the same time, digital gaps still persist.

In this report, we cover some of the major demographic trends that lie beneath the topline adoption numbers and highlight:

  • Age differences: Older adults have lagged behind younger adults in their adoption, but now a clear majority (58%) of senior citizens uses the internet.
  • Class differences: Those with college educations are more likely than those who do not have high school diplomas to use the internet. Similarly, those who live in households earning more than $75,000 are more likely to be internet users than those living in households earning less than $30,000. Still, the class-related gaps have shrunk dramatically in 15 years as the most pronounced growth has come among those in lower-income households and those with lower levels of educational attainment.
  • Racial and ethnic differences: African-Americans and Hispanics have been somewhat less likely than whites or English-speaking Asian-Americans to be internet users, but the gaps have narrowed. Today, 78% of blacks and 81% of Hispanics use the internet, compared with 85% of whites and 97% of English-speaking Asian Americans.
  • Community differences: Those who live in rural areas are less likely than those in the suburbs and urban areas to use the internet. Still, 78% of rural residents are online.

The full story is told in the charts below:

Internet Usage by Age

The proportion of young adults ages 18-29 who use the internet has always outpaced overall adoption levels among older groups.  But while older adults still report lower levels of internet use today, seniors have the greatest rate of change since 2000.

Young Adults Are Most Likely to Use The Internet, but Seniors Show Faster Adoption Rates

Year 18-29 30-49 50-64 65 or older
2000 70% 61% 46% 14%
2001 72% 65% 50% 14%
2002 76% 70% 54% 18%
2003 78% 72% 56% 22%
2004 77% 75% 61% 24%
2005 83% 79% 66% 28%
2006 86% 82% 70% 32%
2007 89% 85% 71% 35%
2008 89% 84% 72% 38%
2009 92% 84% 75% 40%
2010 92% 85% 74% 43%
2011 94% 87% 77% 46%
2012 96% 91% 79% 54%
2013 97% 92% 81% 56%
2014 97% 92% 81% 57%
2015 96% 93% 81% 58%

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

In 2000, 70% of young adults used the internet and that figure has steadily grown to 96% today.  At the other end of the spectrum, 14% of seniors used the internet in 2000, while 58% do so today. Not until 2012 did more than half of all adults ages 65 and older report using the internet.

Internet Usage by Education Attainment

Since the Pew Research Center began consistently measuring internet penetration, educational attainment has been one of the strongest indicators of use. While a large majority of the well-educated has consistently been online, those without a college degree saw greater rates of adoption over the past 15 years and have notably lowered the access gap.

While Less-Educated Adults Are Catching Up, Their Internet Adoption Rates Are Still Below Those of College Graduates

Year College+ Some college HS grad Less than HS
2000 78% 67% 40% 19%
2001 81% 68% 43% 21%
2002 83% 73% 48% 24%
2003 85% 75% 51% 25%
2004 86% 76% 53% 27%
2005 89% 80% 58% 32%
2006 91% 83% 61% 37%
2007 92% 85% 65% 40%
2008 93% 86% 65% 38%
2009 94% 87% 68% 40%
2010 93% 87% 68% 41%
2011 94% 89% 72% 50%
2012 96% 91% 75% 55%
2013 96% 92% 76% 60%
2014 96% 91% 76% 55%
2015 95% 90% 76% 66%

Pew Research Center Surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

Adults with a college or graduate degree are the most likely to use the internet, with almost all of these adults (95%) saying they are internet users. This proportion has always been high – fifteen years ago, 78% of adults with at least a college degree used the internet. But the situation in 2000 was much different for those with less education: in that year, only 19% of those without a high school diploma reported that they were internet users.  For those who have not completed high school, 66% now use the internet, still below where college graduates were in 2000.

Internet Usage by Household Income

Another marker of class differences – household income – is also a strong indicator of internet usage.  Adults living in households with an annual income of at least $75,000 a year are the most likely to use the internet, with 97% of adults in this group currently reporting they are internet users. Those living in households with an annual income under $30,000 a year are less likely to report internet usage, with 74% of adults doing so now.

Those In Higher-Income Households Are Most Likely To Use Internet

Year $75K+ $50K-$74,999 $30K-$49,999 Less than $30K
2000 81% 72% 58% 34%
2001 84% 75% 60% 36%
2002 85% 76% 64% 39%
2003 87% 81% 66% 41%
2004 88% 83% 68% 44%
2005 92% 86% 73% 49%
2006 92% 86% 75% 52%
2007 93% 86% 74% 58%
2008 95% 88% 78% 54%
2009 95% 92% 79% 60%
2010 95% 88% 81% 61%
2011 97% 90% 85% 64%
2012 97% 93% 87% 71%
2013 97% 93% 86% 72%
2014 96% 93% 86% 74%
2015 97% 95% 85% 74%

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

These trends have been consistent over time, although the more recent rise of smartphones has provided internet access to lower-income people, sometimes with lower prices, sometimes with other attractive technology features. Indeed, a recent report released by Pew Research found that lower-income Americans are increasingly “smartphone-dependent” for internet access.

Internet Usage by Race/Ethnicity

Since 2000, English-speaking Asian-Americans have shown consistently higher rates of internet usage compared to whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Fully 72% of English-speaking Asian-Americans said they were internet users 15 years ago when Pew Research began to regularly measure internet access. Whites and Hispanics would not cross this threshold until 2006, and blacks would reach this level in 2011. In 2014, fully 97% of English-speaking Asian-Americans reported being internet users.

Among different racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans have seen the greatest growth rate between 2000 and today, though they are still less likely than whites and English-speaking Asian-Americans to be internet users.

English-speaking Asian-Americans Are the Most Likely To Report Internet Usage

Year Asian, English-speaking White, non-Hispanic Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic
2000 72% 53% 46% 38%
2001 73% 57% 50% 40%
2002 73% 60% 58% 47%
2003 74% 63% 58% 50%
2004 77% 65% 61% 49%
2005 75% 70% 71% 55%
2006 85% 72% 73% 59%
2007 84% 75% 76% 64%
2008 89% 75% 74%* 63%
2009 90% 79% 68%* 69%
2010 89% 78% 71% 68%
2011 91% 81% 73% 73%
2012 95% 84% 79% 77%
2013 95% 85% 81% 79%
2014 97% 85% 81% 79%
2015 N/A 85% 81% 78%

*Note 1: In December 2008, the Pew Research Center began offering national general population surveys in both Spanish and English, helping to increase the share of Hispanics who participated and improving the representativeness of our national surveys. Those who preferred to take interviews in Spanish were more likely to be recently arrived immigrants who had somewhat lower education levels, lower household income, and less connection to some technologies compared with other Hispanics living in the U.S. This helps to explain the break in the usage rate trend among U.S. Hispanics between 2008 and 2009.

Note 2: The results reported here on Asian-Americans are limited to English speakers only. The surveys reported here were conducted only in English and Spanish. Those who speak other Asian languages but are not comfortable speaking English are less likely to respond to these phone surveys.

Note 3: The 2015 data come from a survey that does not include enough Asian-Americans to yield statistically-reliable findings.

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015. Asian American sample size for 2015 is too low to report.

Pew Research Center

In December 2008, Pew Research began offering all surveys of the U.S. population in Spanish as well as English. This change ensured better coverage of the national population, including more recently arrived Hispanic immigrants. More recently arrived Hispanic immigrants are more likely to have limited English ability, have lower levels of income and formal education, and have less internet experience than other Hispanics living in the U.S. Thus, we report two separate time trends for Hispanics: the first leading up to late 2008 when Pew Research Center surveys of the U.S. population were only available in English, and the second, from late 2008 onward, when all Pew Research national surveys were administered in both English and Spanish.1

Furthermore, the trends presented here on Asian-Americans are limited to English speakers only. The respondents classified as Asian-American said in surveys that they were “Asian or Pacific Islander” when asked to identify their race. As Pew Research surveys are only offered in English and Spanish, the Asian-Americans who respond are English speakers or bilingual. Those who speak other Asian languages but are not comfortable speaking English are less likely to respond to these phone surveys. Pew Research Center does not usually report on Asian-American technology use in it reports as surveys do not typically contain enough Asian-American respondents to yield statistically reliable findings. Aggregating surveys, as is done here, does yield sufficient cases of English-speaking Asian-Americans to report the findings.2

Internet Usage by Community Type

Adults who live in urban or suburban communities have shown consistently higher levels of internet adoption, compared with rural residents. This gap has persisted even as internet adoption has risen in all three types of communities.

Rural Citizens Are Less Likely To Use Internet

Year Urban Suburban Rural
2000 53% 56% 42%
2001 55% 59% 46%
2002 61% 63% 49%
2003 64% 65% 51%
2004 65% 67% 53%
2005 69% 70% 60%
2006 71% 73% 62%
2007 75% 77% 63%
2008 75% 77% 63%
2009 73% 76% 68%
2010 78% 79% 69%
2011 80% 82% 73%
2012 84% 84% 76%
2013 86% 85% 78%
2014 85% 85% 79%
2015 85% 85% 78%

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

In 2000, 56% of suburban residents, 53% of urban residents, and 42% of rural residents were internet users. Today those figures stand at 85%, 85%, and 78% respectively. Rural communities tend to have a higher proportion of residents who are older, lower-income, and have lower levels of educational attainment – additional factors associated with lower levels of internet adoption.

Internet Usage by Gender

Today, men and women are equally likely to be internet users, a trend that has not wavered throughout the 15 years these surveys have been conducted. However, the earliest Pew Research surveys found that men were more likely than women to be internet users.  For instance, a 1995 survey found 9% of men and 4% of women had used a “modem to connect to any computer bulletin boards, information services such as Compuserve or Prodigy.”

Gender Parity Has Been the Norm In Internet Usage

Year Men Women
2000 54% 50%
2001 57% 53%
2002 61% 57%
2003 63% 60%
2004 66% 61%
2005 69% 67%
2006 72% 70%
2007 75% 73%
2008 74% 73%
2009 77% 75%
2010 77% 76%
2011 80% 78%
2012 83% 82%
2013 84% 84%
2014 84% 84%
2015 85% 84%

Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2000-2015.

Pew Research Center

By 2000, when Pew Research began tracking internet use more consistently, 54% of men were internet users, compared with half of women. This modest gap continued, gradually shrinking until 2008 when a statistically indistinguishable 74% of men and 73% of women identified as internet users. Today, 85% of men and 84% of women report being internet users.