July 28, 2015

15% of Americans don’t use the internet. Who are they?

Who's Not Online?For many Americans, going online is an important way to connect with friends and family, shop, get news and search for information. Yet today, 15% of U.S. adults do not use the internet, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data.

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.

Offline Population Has Declined Substantially since 2000Rural 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.

Despite some groups having persistently lower rates of internet adoption, the vast majority of Americans are online. Over time, the offline population has been shrinking, and for some groups that change has been especially dramatic. For example, 86% of adults 65 and older did not go online in 2000; today that figure has been cut in half. And among those without a high school diploma, the share not using the internet dropped from 81% to 33% in the same time period.

You can read about the methodology for this post here.

Topics: Demographics, Generations and Age, Income, Internet Activities, Technology Adoption

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

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

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

23 Comments

  1. Anonymous3 months ago

    What about the “dead space”, especially in rural areas? These areas do not have internet nor cell phone reception….is that included in the 15%?

  2. Alvaro Dee3 months ago

    I guess providing free internet connections by targeting the areas where people use less internet can help more in improving the stats for those 15%. But, another challenge will be to know if they have a medium like smart phones or PC’s for surfing!!! – Alvaro Dee, Web Research Specialist SunTecData (suntecdata.com )

  3. David Bowcott4 months ago

    15% of Americans don’t use the internet. Who are they? people who see friends and family in real life and not on some social networking site.

    1. Anonymous4 months ago

      And I imagine many of the same folks who vote Hillary/Trump because they get most of their ‘news’ from CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, ESPN/Five-Thirty-Eight, HBO, FX, TNT, and virtually every other major media outlet (who coincidentally rank among Hillary’s top financial contributors.)
      Used correctly, and with some critical thinking skills sprinkled in, the internet is an unparalleled resource for accurate information.

  4. MackK9 months ago

    Interesting that pollsters/researchers didn’t pick up on the number of highly educated families, many of them recent immigrants, who use the internet only at work or school (their children). Among those kids who only use it at school (and watch very little tv at home as well) are those with the highest GPAs in their class. While their peers are using the Web for entertainment, they are studying.

    1. Carlos Q9 months ago

      You mind providing a link as to where you found this information / statistics.

  5. Teddy Roosevelt10 months ago

    I think that eventually internet access should have a cheaper cost and public wireless hot spots will increase and eventually lead to free internet below the 5mbs speed limit. Within the next five years more an more municipalities will install fiber and wireless towers so citizens can be aware of local alerts, news , education and advanced communication between citizens. So soon speed will increase and free internet will become a reality. The government could save quite a bit of paper as more and more people use the Internet to apply for services. We will develop faster as a society as people communicate opinion, organize interested groups and notify authorities of crimes on the way to being committed or transmit video of the crime in action. People on the authority end need to stop discounting net users as crackpots and stop hating people who record thick headed police while they use excessive force on innocents. Cell phone cameras will change the way authority presents itself when performing public arrests. Filming crimes should be encouraged, it will save a fortune as a city could cut back on CCTV equipment purchases.

  6. Susan Gibbons11 months ago

    In 15 yrs that number will be even smaller as the people who never got online die off and my generation (I’m 54) age. I’ve been online since 1995

  7. somsai12 months ago

    There must be a certain percent of error built into these questions also. I for instance have never used the internet in my life.

    1. Seattlelou12 months ago

      TRY IT, everything is there…..trust me
      Also, you’re just ONE person. There are 303 million Americans.

    2. Third12 months ago

      touché

    3. Shane9 months ago

      One wonders how somsal was able to offer his opinion without access to the Internet…

      1. Anonymous3 months ago

        lol ur right

  8. Gene B.1 year ago

    I agree with all the other comments that your percentage is way too low for various reasons. Like many others, I choose to (not) use the internet less and less every day. It has nothing to do with my income, race, or how old I am, or where I live, I simply want to be “unplugged”. My battery operated wireless mouse have a one year life span, it’s been three years and I haven’t had to replace it. Same as with watching TV, people in general are (not) watching TV more, they are simply watching TV less and less every day by choice.

  9. Dick Calkins1 year ago

    As a subscriber to your weekly emailed bulletin, I shudder with disbelief each time you provide estimates of non internet/computer usage, e.g., ‘15% of Americans don’t use the internet’. The number of the US population who do not use the computer must be at least twice the 15% reported. That 15% estimate is just not plausible when estimates of functional literacy and characteristics of the distribution of intelligence in the US population are taken into consideration.

    After all use of a modern computer requires some degree of intelligence, and half the population is below average. Some calibration of what an individual with less than average intelligence is capable can be obtained by examination of functional literacy research.

    A relevant nation wide functional literacy investigation, the Adult Performance Level Study, was reported in the two references shown below. This study was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, Princeton, New Jersey in 1973-74 using stratified random sampling to select subjects; testing of those subjects was done person to person to obtain weighted estimates of the numbers of persons not able to accomplish tasks necessary for successful living in a modern society. For example, some of those tasks were ability to use the postal and the banking system. Results indicated that twenty-two percent of the sample were unable to address an envelope well enough to insure it would reach the desired destination, and twenty-four percent were unable to place a return address on the same envelope which would insure that it would be returned to the sender if delivery were not possible. Slightly more than one-fifth of the sample were unable to write a check on an account without making an error so serious that the check would not be processed by the bank, or would be processed incorrectly. About 40% could not count change correctly during a monetary transaction, etc.

    Granted that these estimates are 40 years old, but it is doubtful that functional literacy is different today and a similar study today would produce lower estimates. And these results, though not directly relevant to computer literacy, are indicative of existing levels of cognitive function. It is hard to conceive that a person whose cognitive skills render them unable to address an envelope or write a check correctly could use a modern computer to access the internet. Persons at these lower skill levels, just will not be capable of using the internet, so your 15% estimate appears to be too low.

    I recognize that reaching persons with poor cognitive skills by telephone is difficult, since many do not have or answer the telephone; but it would behoove you to take prior information and rationality into consideration in reporting estimates of internet use by persons with limited cognitive skills.

    Northcutt, Norvell, Functional Literacy for Adults; A Status Report of the Adult Performance Level Study. May 1974.

    The Adult Performance Level Study: Report Submitted to the Department of Education, 1975.

  10. sderated1 year ago

    “For example, 86% of adults 65 and older did not go online in 2000; today that figure has been cut in half.”

    Isn’t that because many of the adults who were 65 and older in 2000 are now dead, and many of those who are now 65 and older are people who were younger in 2000 but have now passed the 65 mark, from whose bourn no traveller returns?

  11. Muthyavan.1 year ago

    There are still people who can’t read or write any language that is freely used in computing. Many people don’t want to use computer fear of data getting lost or stolen also.

    1. MackK9 months ago

      That’s also why a lot of people who used the internet are doing so less and less (or going offline altogether), as well as off-gridders. Of course what those who stop using it for security reasons don’t realize is that your data and identity can be lost or stolen regardless of whether they use the internet or not because that information is in govt and corp online databases.

  12. cato cato1 year ago

    I was an early internet/email user and frankly I am too plugged in now. In the early days it was great: a useful, elegant, burgeoning, exciting tool. Now life is frantic and the internet/cellphones/apps etc. are ubiquitous. Information overload is adding stress. My goal is to get to a place where my internet needs/use will be nothing more than an hour or so a week in the local library sending out an email or two, shopping at amazon or other etailers, and checking investment accounts. This is my goal, will I achieve it? Seems improbable.

    1. leonardo11 months ago

      Hey i am totally agree with you ,if i were president (xD) i would allow only one hour of internet per family a day. No more.

      1. gil11 months ago

        If you were president you would limit internet to one hour. So you think the president is a dictator who can for these type of proclamations?

    2. Yacko11 months ago

      Is there no other reason to use the internet? Research and learning? Books, magazines, reading material. I know more in the last 15 years as I did the previous 30. A simple example, I am now able to cherry pick cooperative extension pdf bulletins from 40+ states rather than being stuck with a small number of paper copies from my states URI. Discographies? History of filmmaking? History, particularly recent history, in general always badly covered in school. Mapping? Street view? I have been to many places I otherwise will never actually see. I understand one does not want to spend a life online. Replacing TV with internet has benefits and reducing both a bit is good too. But if you are too young to have gone to school in the regimented 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, particularly the 50s and 60s, you have no appreciation the freedom of information the worldwide network provides.

      1. MackK9 months ago

        You are a small demographic. If Pew was ever so inclined to research hours online and for what, they would find most usage is for porn, entertainment, and shopping among the vast majority of users (providing those polled are honest).