November 29, 2013

7 things to know about offline Americans

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 15% of American adults are not internet users and that there were a number of demographic groups of adults who were particularly unlikely to be online.

That number surprised some and became part of  policy discussion on Capitol Hill about broadband adoption issues.

Here are some lesser-known things that we found when exploring offline Americans and their lives:

FT_Offline1 Many of them are “secondary internet users”: 44% of offline adults have asked a friend or family member to look something up or complete a task on the internet for them.

2  Notable numbers of them live in homes with internet connections: 23% of offline adults live in a household where someone else uses the internet at home, a proportion that has remained relatively steady for over a decade.

3  A share of them used to be online, but have since dropped off: 14% of offline adults say that they once used to use the internet, but have since stopped for some reason.

4  Age is one of the strongest factors related to non-internet use, followed by education and income. Over half of seniors who did not attend college or live in households earning less than $50,000 per year are offline.

5  A share of non-internet users live in cities: among urban residents, 14% are offline.

6  A rising share of them cite “usability” issues as their main barrier: 32% now say they don’t use the internet because they say it is not easy for them to use. These non-users say it is difficult or frustrating to go online, they are physically unable, or they are worried about other issues such as spam, spyware and hackers. This figure is considerably higher than in earlier surveys. In 2009 when we asked that same question, only 12% of offline Americans cited usability issues as a reason for not being online.


7 Most of them say they would need help going online: 63% of offline Americans say they would need someone to help them go online if they choose to use the internet in the future.

NOTE: A previous version of this post said “14% of offline Americans are urban residents.” The corrected version says “among urban residents, 14% are offline.”

Topics: Broadband, Internet Activities

  1. Photo of Kathryn Zickuhr

    is a Research Associate at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

  2. Photo of Lee Rainie

    is director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Walt French4 years ago

    “14% of offline Americans are urban residents.”

    In contrast, America overall “is very urbanized, with 82% residing in cities and suburbs as of 2008.” (CIA Factbook, 2010)

    So the big determinant as to online status appears to be whether the person lives in or around a city.

    Sounds at least a bit right to me. Many people choose rural areas in part not to be so tightly connected to the chatter of the dominant American culture in 2013.

    1. Kathryn Zickuhr4 years ago

      Hi Walt, our apologies for a typo in the original post. Instead of “14% of offline Americans are urban residents,” the corrected version says “among urban residents, 14% are offline.”

  2. Rochelle Winston Davies4 years ago

    And then there is that whole swath of the U.S. who live in parts that are in neither 3G/4G areas, do not have access to cable and even with WiFi devices get sketchy access at best. For them it is satellite or nothing and because of frequent satellite outages in their rural atea, half the time the internet isn’t accessible. And that doesn’t even touch on the issue of cost and the high percentage of the populace for which internet access and its associated $ cost is the difference between having it or their ‘must haves’ such as gasoline, electricity/heat, mortage or rent payment,food and medicine.

  3. Vince Wallace4 years ago

    Thank you for doing this research. It’s of particular interest to me because I work with churches and non-profits that often have trouble integrating certain – usually older – members into digital strategies or developing effective offline ones for them. Is the raw set available publicly? If not did you find any more insights about how older people prefer to communicate, or characteristics of the younger people who aren’t digital for some reason?

    1. Kathryn Zickuhr4 years ago

      Hi Vince, the data set for this report (based on our May 2013 survey) is available at:…

      Though we don’t have the data to fully answer your second question, some interesting findings about how various age groups use different technology platforms is woven throughout many of our reports. I’d take a look at this report on cell phone activities… and our social networking site demographics….