Why These Americans Still Don’t Use the Internet

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Most Americans can’t imagine life without the Internet. They use online tools and services to talk with their families and friends, do their shopping, keep up with the news, and find information on anything and everything. But according to a study recently released by the Pew Research Center, 15% of American adults don’t use the Internet — a figure that’s held approximately steady for the past three years despite government and social service programs to encourage Internet adoption. So who are the Americans who don’t ever go online?

Previous Pew research found a few key reasons why some people don’t use the Internet — 34% of offline Americans said that they have no interest in going online, or didn’t think that the Internet is relevant to their lives. Another 32% think that the Internet is too difficult to use, and 8% of this group said that they were too old to learn to use it. Finally, 19% explained that cost is a barrier to Internet access, citing the expenses of Internet service (via a broadband or mobile bill) or hardware. The research center’s latest analysis shows that Internet non-adoption correlates with a variety of demographic variables, like age, educational attainment, household income, race and ethnicity, and community type.

Age is one of the strongest indicators of whether a person is likely to go online or not. Seniors are most likely to say that they never go online, with about four in ten adults ages 65 and older reporting that they don’t use the Internet, compared with just 3% of those aged 18 to 29.

Household income and education also correlate with a person’s likelihood to be offline. A third of adults who have completed less than a high school education don’t use the Internet, but that share falls as educational attainment increases. Adults in households that earn less than $30,000 per year are approximately eight times more likely than the most affluent adults to say that they don’t use the Internet.

Location is also an indicator of whether someone is online or offline. Rural Americans are approximately twice as likely as those who live in urban or suburban areas to never use the Internet. Racial and ethnic differences also figure in, with 20% of black Americans and 18% of Hispanic Americans saying that they don’t use the Internet, compared with 14% of white Americans and only 5% of English-speaking Asian-Americans.

Even though some groups of Americans have consistently lower rates of Internet adoption, the vast majority of Americans are Internet users. The offline population has been shrinking, and Pew notes that for some groups, that effect has been especially dramatic. For instance, 86% of adults aged 65 and older didn’t go online in 2000, but that figure has been cut in half today. In the same amount of time, the percentage of Americans without a high school diploma who were offline dropped from 81% to 33%.

As Dino Grandoni reports for The New York Times, the Americans who remain offline do so, at least in part, because the barriers between them and the Internet aren’t easy to overcome. “A lot of the easy adopters have already been converted,” explains Aaron Smith, associate director at the Pew Research Center.

Elderly Americans who don’t use the Internet face the “dual barriers” of making less money and having more difficulty reading computer text, typing on keyboards, and using touchscreens. (That explains why age, more than anything else, predicts whether someone uses the Internet.) The group of Americans who aren’t connected to the Internet is disproportionately black and Hispanic, in part because these groups tend to have lower income and education levels. But Grandoni also notes that some Hispanics may face the additional barrier of English language proficiency.

The Times also notes that those users who cite cost as a barrier to Internet access “are caught in a sort of Catch-22. They cannot afford to get access to the Internet, yet access to services like job listings that would help them earn enough to afford Internet access are available largely online.” Many low-income Americans can go online only at a library or at work. Smith told the Times, “I think we do a service by reminding people that this thing we think is ubiquitous isn’t actually ubiquitous.”

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