Who are the 15% of Americans who don't use the internet?
In 2000, fully 48% of Americans were offline, including 81% of those over 65. In the intervening years, that number has steadily declined until now, when only 15% of Americans don't use the internet.
The size of this group has changed little over the past three years, despite recent government and social service programs to encourage internet adoption. But that 15% figure is substantially lower than in 2000, when Pew Research first began to study the social impact of technology. That year, nearly half (48%) of American adults did not use the internet.
A 2013 Pew Research survey found some key reasons that some people do not use the internet. A third of non-internet users (34%) did not go online because they had no interest in doing so or did not think the internet was relevant to their lives. Another 32% of non-internet users said the internet was too difficult to use, including 8% of this group who said they were “too old to learn.” Cost was also a barrier for some adults who were offline – 19% cited the expense of internet service or owning a computer.
The latest Pew Research analysis also shows that internet non-adoption is correlated to a number of demographic variables, including age, educational attainment, household income, race and ethnicity, and community type.
Seniors are the group most likely to say they never go online. About four-in-ten adults ages 65 and older (39%) do not use the internet, compared with only 3% of 18- to 29-year-olds. Household income and education are also indicators of a person’s likelihood to be offline. A third of adults with less than a high school education do not use the internet, but that share falls as the level of educational attainment increases. Adults from households earning less than $30,000 a year are roughly eight times more likely than the most affluent adults to not use the internet.
Rural Americans are about twice as likely as those who live in urban or suburban settings to never use the internet. Racial and ethnic differences are also evident. One-in-five blacks and 18% of Hispanics do not use the internet, compared with 14% of whites and only 5% of English-speaking Asian-Americans – the racial or ethnic group least likely to be offline.
The racial and ethnic disparity means that young minority kids and their families are being left behind in the new "shared economy" that is starting to take off. President Obama wants a gargantuan federal program to address that problem when it is local government that needs to step up. Creating the internet infrastructure in the inner cities is far better accomplished when city leaders can address the problem at the neighborhood level. There are several pilot programs, including one in Chicago that is dependent on citywide wifi. Making the internet wireless and free would go a long way toward bringing minorities online.
Otherwise, there are few surprises as far as who isn't online. Seniors – especially those in their 70s and 80s – are too set in their ways to change. Rural Americans are the least likely to have broadband, and if you can remember what a pain in the butt dial-up internet connections were, you can understand why some country folk simply don't care.