The Pew Internet Project defines the internet user population by asking two questions:
Those who answer "yes" to either question are included in the analysis as internet users. According to this definition, three-quarters of adults in the U.S. go online. Yet, internet penetration drops as illness is added to the picture. Fully 81% of adults reporting no chronic conditions go online, compared with 62% of adults living with one or more chronic disease. The more diseases someone has, the less likely they are to have internet access: 68% of adults living with one chronic condition go online, compared with 52% of adults living with two or more chronic conditions.
These findings are in line with overall trends in public health and technology adoption. Statistically speaking, chronic disease is associated with being older, African American, less educated, and living in a lower-income household. By contrast, internet use is statistically associated with being younger, white, college-educated, and living in a higher-income household.
Thus, it is not surprising that the chronically ill report lower rates of internet access than other adults. However, when all of these demographic factors are controlled, living with a chronic disease in and of itself has an independent, negative effect on someone’s likelihood to have internet access.
The remainder of this report focuses on three groups of adults in the U.S.: those living with at least one of the five chronic disease (the broadest group, encompassing those living with one, two, or more conditions); those living with two or more conditions (who provide the starkest contrast); and those who report having none of the diseases named in the survey.