Though inequality persists in who has internet access in the United States, mobile technology – and in particular widespread smartphone adoption – is helping to close that gap, according to a new report by Pew Research.
It found that just one in five adults does not use the internet, and that those individuals tended to be older, have attained lower levels of education, and were from households with lower incomes. But benefiting individuals in those groups is mobile technology, which is helping disenfranchised groups close the internet gap, and is correlated with other online activities, in a phenomenon researchers call the “mobile difference.”
“Once someone has a wireless device, she becomes much more active in how she uses the internet – not just with wireless connectivity, but also with wired devices,” reads the report “The same holds true for the impact of wireless connections and people’s interest in using the internet to connect with others. These mobile users go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content much more than they did before.”
Among adults who still don’t use the internet, nearly half reported that was because they didn’t think it’s relevant to them. Those individuals told researchers they felt they could communicate and find information using other channels.
But while smartphones are boosting internet connectivity among less privileged groups, the financially secure, the well-educated, and young people are still more likely to own smart phones.
Internet use habits are changing, as well. In addition to email and search, more Americans are using the web to access social networks. Internet banking is also on the rise.
It also found that race is not a good indicator of mobile use. Whites are as likely as African Americans and Engish-speaking Latinos to own mobile phones.
“The internet access gap closest to disappearing is that between whites and minorities,” researchers wrote. “Differences in access persist, especially in terms of adults who have high-speed broadband at home, but they have become significantly less prominent over the years – and have disappeared entirely when other demographic factors (including language proficiency) are controlled for.”
Researchers talked to 2,260 respondents aged 18 and older, by cell and landline phone, to gather data for the report. Pew Research started producing material on the role of the internet in the United States in the year 2000.