While disparities in Internet use persist among racial and ethnic groups, smartphones appear to be helping to bridge the digital divide, according to a report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The findings are part of the latest Census Bureau report, Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2011, which provides analysis of computer and Internet use for households and individuals. The information comes from data collected as part of the Current Population Survey’s 2011 Computer and Internet Use Supplement, which was sponsored and funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The report also features a table that places users along a “connectivity continuum” and shows that a sizeable percentage of Internet users now make their online connections both inside and outside the home and from multiple devices.
“Going online is no longer a simple yes or no proposition,” said Thom File, the report’s author and a sociologist with the Census Bureau. “Different groups of people are accessing the Internet in very different ways, and these statistics give us a better understanding of how and where those connections are taking place.”
According to the report, a gap of 27.1 percentage points exists between groups with the highest and lowest reported rates of home Internet use. Asians reported the highest use at 78.3 percent and Hispanics the lowest at 51.2 percent. However, the gap narrows to 17.5 percentage points when smartphone use is factored into overall rates of Internet use. With smartphones factored in, 83.0 percent of Asians and 65.5 percent of Hispanics reported going online.
In terms of smartphone usage on its own, 51.6 percent of Asian respondents reported using a smartphone. About 48.0 percent of both white non-Hispanics and blacks reported smartphone use, and 45.4 percent of Hispanics said they used smartphones. The reported usage rates for blacks and Hispanics were not statistically different from each other. Overall, 48.2 percent of individuals 15 and older reported using a smartphone.
Household and Individual Internet Usage
Although disparities in Internet use for households persisted across race and Hispanic origin groups in 2011, they appear to be shrinking. In 2000, white non-Hispanic households were about twice as likely as black households to report Internet access (46.1 percent vs. 23.6 percent). By 2011, white non-Hispanic households were only about 1.3 times as likely as black households to report the same (76.2 percent vs. 56.9 percent).
Divides also existed for individual Internet use. About 75.0 percent of both non-Hispanic whites and Asians reported accessing the Internet from some location, compared with 60.3 percent of blacks and 54.4 percent of Hispanics. The estimates for non-Hispanic whites and Asians accessing the Internet are not significantly different.
In 2011, 71.7 percent of all households used the Internet, including 82.7 percent of Asian households, 76.2 percent of white non-Hispanic households, 58.3 percent of Hispanic households and 56.9 percent of black households.
As technology has changed and evolved over the years, people have seen an increase in the variety and number of ways they use computers and access the Internet. To explore this phenomenon further, the Census Bureau designed a scale to place individuals along a “connectivity continuum.”
The connectivity continuum shows variations in adoption of these technologies, ranging from people with no Internet connection or computer, to those connecting from multiple locations and devices.
In 2011, 27.0 percent of Americans connected to the Internet from multiple locations and multiple devices. These individuals were considered “high connectivity” users. On the other end of the connectivity continuum, individuals with no computer or Internet (15.9 percent) made up the second largest group. The remaining 57.1 percent of Americans were located somewhere between these two extremes.
Current Population Survey
The information was collected as part of a July 2011 supplement to the Current Population Survey, which asked a sample of approximately 54,000 households various questions about computer ownership, Internet use and mobile device usage.