While the explosive growth of mobile technologies appears to span all income levels fairly equally, Pew Research’s Director Lee Rainie demonstrates in a recent presentation that not much at all has changed in terms of home access and the Digital Divide.
The numbers are shocking in their uniformity. For nearly every category of Internet access – from simply being on the Internet to broadband access – the same proportion of higher-income and better-educated respondents report high adoption rates while the lower-income and less-educated respondents report very low adoption rates. 97% of college-educated and 98% earners of incomes in excess of $75k are on the Internet, compared to 45% of those with no high school diploma and 65% of those earning less than $30k.
To some extent this is certainly a product of our upwardly-mobile society: because you don’t have a degree now does not mean you won’t in the future, at which point with a higher income, you will likely invest in broadband Internet access. However, for those whose incomes do not change or do not change much, this is a real trap. And as our society becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet, there is always the threat that this disparity could become self-perpetuating, with low-education consumers barred from access to the information store of the world.
That mobile adoption has increase at a rapid rate may or may not be a comfort to those concerned with Internet access disparity. While mobile apps and Internet have increased in their proliferation and usefulness, a phone or tablet simply does not offer the range of potential uses that a desktop or laptop does. Not to mention the bandwidth restrictions that come with using wireless broadband.
LATE UPDATE: Interestingly, Pew Internet just put out a poll today that says, of the one in five Americans who do not use the Internet, about half of them say they’re just not interested. How does this reflect on what we know so far about income and education disparity? I wonder what these numbers look like if you break them down by similar demographics?