87% of American Adults Now Access the Internet

February 27, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

African-American | Boomers & Older | Demographics & Audiences | Digital | Email | Hispanic | Household Income | Men | Mobile Phone | Women | Youth & Gen X

Pew-US-Internet-Adoption-Rates-in-Jan-2014-Feb2014To mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of the internet (on March 12), the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has released the results of a new survey [pdf] examining internet use in the US. The study finds that among adults, 87% use the internet, email, or access the internet via a mobile device, up a couple of points from a similar study conducted in May last year, which at the time represented a new high point. Internet adoption is not consistent across all demographic groups, though.

There’s virtually (pun intended) no disparity in adoption when sorting by gender or by race/ethnicity, with that latter point a significant change from last year’s study, when Hispanics were significant more likely than the general population to be offline (24% vs. 15%). That study did employ a different definition of an internet user for a subset of the sample, though, such that the comparison may not be entirely an apples-to-apples one.

In this latest study, age, income and education gaps in adoption continue to be prevalent, however.

Internet use is practically ubiquitous at this point among 18-29-year-olds (97%), with the vast majority of respondents in the 30-49 (93%) and 50-64 (88%) brackets also online. There’s a big drop after that, though: only 57% of Americans aged 65 and up report going online. That hasn’t changed from last year’s study, when 56% were online.

Meanwhile, when sorting by education level, the survey results indicate that 97% of college graduates are online, as are 91% of those with some college education. But among respondents with no college education, a relatively smaller 76% access the internet in some form.

Similar disparities emerge when segregating by household income (HHI). Those with HHI of at least $75,000 are all on the internet (99% penetration), with high rates of access also seen among respondents with HHI of $50-75k (93%) and $30-50k (85%). Internet penetration doesn’t seem to have improved for Americans with household income of less than $30k per year, though: as of this latest survey, 77% are online.

The gap in access between urban (88%), suburban (87%) and rural (83%) Americans persists, though Pew doesn’t find the difference to be statistically significant.

Those same demographic patterns tend to apply to smartphone ownership, though they’re more pronounced in that area. For example, 18-29-year-olds are more than 4 times as likely as the 65+ group to own a smartphone (83% vs. 19%). There are also substantial discrepancies in smartphone adoption between Americans falling in the lowest and highest education and household income buckets, despite indications that smartphone sales are increasing among lower-income groups.

Where smartphone adoption differs from internet adoption in terms of demographic patterns is in community type and race/ethnicity. Hispanics are more likely than whites to own a smartphone (61% vs. 53%), while urban (64%) and suburban (60%) residents are more likely than rural Americans (43%) to own one.

About the Data: The data is based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,006 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (502) and cell phone (504, including 288 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from January 9 to 12, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.

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