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November 16, 2005

Digital divide in Europe and the US: two reports

Age, education, and family income are chief factors in determining who uses the internet, show reports from U.S. and Europe.

Two reports – one in Europe and another in the U.S. – provide a peek into the digital divide (measured by computer and Internet use in the home) along the lines of age, education and location (rural versus urban). The E.U. Report does not address the divide based on income, unlike the Pew Report, and that’s unfortunate. The Pew Report does not address the urban versus rural divide, unlike the E.U. Report.

E.U. digital divide in 2004

The E.U. Report, written by Christophe Demunter, shows a digital divide (in 2004) that is primarily a matter of age and education. Here’s a summary from the press release:

In the EU25 (member states and candidates), 85% of students (aged 16 or more in school or university) used the internet during the first quarter of 2004, as did 60% of employees, 40% of the unemployed and 13% of the retired, compared to an EU25 average of 47% for individuals aged from 16 to 74.

This divide by employment status is also found by educational level: only 25% of those with at most lower secondary education used the internet during the first quarter of 2004, while the proportion rose to 52% for those who had completed secondary education, and 77% for those with a tertiary education.

During the past decade, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have become widely available to the general public, in both accessibility and cost. However, gaps remain in the use of ICT amongst the E.U. population depending on factors such as their age, employment status and educational level, and the degree of urbanisation of the area where they live. This so-called digital divide has several origins: missing infrastructure or access; missing incentives to use ICTs; lack of the computer literacy or skills necessary to take part in the information society.

Largest divide by educational level in Portugal, smallest in Lithuania

In all member states for which data are available, there is a higher level of internet use among the higher educated than among the lower. There is no significant link between the overall level of internet penetration and the size of this divide. The largest gaps were recorded in Portugal (70 percentage points), Slovenia (68 pp), Spain (61 pp), the United Kingdom (59 pp) and Italy (58 pp), while the smallest divides were observed in Lithuania (11 pp), Sweden (24 pp), Germany (25 pp), Denmark and Estonia (both 27 pp).

Only in Sweden (70%), Denmark (64%), Finland (54%) and Germany (51%) did more than half of the lower educated use the internet during the first quarter of 2004, while the proportion of the higher educated who used the internet fell below 50% only in Lithuania (38%) and Greece (48%). Only in the Netherlands did more than half of the retired use the internet.

In all member states for which data are available, the highest proportion of internet use during the first quarter of 2004 was recorded for students. The highest ratios were registered in Finland (97%), Sweden and Denmark (both 96%), and the lowest in Greece (55%), Ireland (57%) and Italy (74%). Across the EU, employees generally registered the second highest proportion of internet use. The highest levels were observed in Sweden (86%), Denmark (83%), the Netherlands and Finland (both 82%), and the lowest in Greece (28%), Lithuania and Hungary (both 33%).

In nearly all member states a lower proportion of the unemployed than employees used the internet in the first quarter of 2004. Internet use amongst the unemployed ranged from 8% in Lithuania and 10% in Latvia to 86% in Sweden and 76% in the Netherlands. In all Member States the lowest proportion of internet use was observed for the retired. In thirteen Member States less than 10% of the retired had used the internet, while only in the Netherlands (54%), Sweden (45%), Denmark (34%), and Luxembourg (32%) was the proportion more than a quarter. These gaps are consistent with those found by age, where the proportion of internet users among those aged 16 to 24 was three times higher than for those aged 55 to 74.

To download the Eurostat digital divide report (8 pages), click here.

US digital divide in 2005

The Pew Internet & American Life Project published a digital divide report based on telephone interviews conducted between May and June 2005.

It is not surprising to see that the digital divide cuts along the same lines: age and educational level. In both regions, the presence of children has a significant impact on a household’s use of computers and the Internet. Here’s a summary from the PEW website:

Two-thirds of American adults go online, and one-third do not.

As of May-June 2005, 68% of American adults, or about 137 million people, use the internet, up from 63% one year ago. Thirty-two percent of American adults, or about 65 million people, do not use the internet and not always by choice. Certain groups continue to lag in their internet adoption, including Americans age 65 and older, African-Americans, and those with less education.

For example:

  • 26% of Americans age 65 and older go online, compared with 67% of those age 50- 64, 80% of those age 30-49, and 84% of those age 18-29.
  • 57% of African-Americans go online, compared with 70% of whites.
  • 29% of those who have not graduated from high school have access, compared with 61% of high school graduates and 89% of college graduates.
  • 60% of American adults who do not have a child living at home go online, compared with 83% of parents of minor children.

The PEW report also contains information on the divide between those who have broadband and those on dial-up. Again it’s not surprising that broadband use is much more pervasive among people who have attained higher educational levels.

To download the PEW report (12 pages), click here.