April 30, 2015

Racial and ethnic differences in how people use mobile technology

For many years, researchers have studied the “digital divide” by examining the gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who don’t. But as these gaps have narrowed over time, another set of contrasts has emerged when it comes to the ways different demographic groups use technology.

African Americans and Latinos Rely Heavily on Smartphones for Health Info, Educational Content, Job SeekingAlthough whites, blacks and Hispanics have similar rates of smartphone ownership, minorities tend to rely more heavily on their phone for internet access, according to Pew Research Center’s recent report on smartphone adoption. Some 13% of Hispanics and 12% of blacks are smartphone-dependent, meaning they don’t have a broadband connection at home and have few options for going online other than their cellphone. In comparison, only 4% of white smartphone owners rely heavily on their cellphone for online access.

Blacks and Hispanics reach for their phones more often than whites when it comes to looking up information about health conditions, jobs or educational content. However, there is little difference between these groups in using phones for online banking or getting information about real estate or government services.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Hispanic smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to research a health condition, which is similar to the share for blacks. But whites are less likely to say they’ve used a phone to seek out health information.

Black and Hispanic smartphone owners are especially likely to use their phone for job-related activities – more than half (55%) used their phone in the past year to find job information, compared with about a third (37%) of whites. Many smartphone owners are also turning to mobile for applying for jobs, and again, blacks and Hispanics are more than twice as likely as white smartphone owners to use their phone to submit a job application.

Mobile education is a bigger part of the smartphone experience for Hispanics – 45% of Hispanic smartphone owners have used their mobile device to take an online class or look up educational content in the past year. That share is 32% for blacks and only 26% for whites.

Although smartphone owners were not asked why they reach for their phone to access certain information or services, some advocacy groups suggest that mobile technology may help reduce minority health disparities by enabling access to information that would not necessarily be readily available to them, while additional research points to how important digital technology is in the job search process for blacks.

Topics: Internet Activities, Mobile, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.


  1. Habib Khondker1 year ago

    I would guess that the reason for only 12% whites using mobile phone to submit job application is not only because they have tablets, laptops and desktops and so on equipped with broadband connectivity, as an ethnically dominant group they are likely to have better social network connectivity. Some of the “weaker ties” they have with important friends, relatives, family friends and old school networks may give them access to privileged information with regard to job search. Hence, their job search pattern may be somewhat different from the other ethnic groups.

  2. Elianna James1 year ago

    Implications for job postings, online courses and of course, health education delivery.

    Always interesting to see how people use the research.

  3. Cynthia Williams1 year ago

    This is excellent information.