Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Who’s Not Online

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Table of Contents

Who’s not online

Internet naysayers

Half the adults in America do not have Internet access and 57% of those non-users are not interested in getting online. This suggests that the booming growth of the American Internet population in the past few years will slow.

  • 32% of those without Internet access now say they definitely will not get Internet access. That comes to about 31 million Americans.
  • Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online.
  • 12% of those without Internet access say that they definitely will go online.
  • 29% of non-Internet users say they probably will get Internet access.

The “gray gap” – aging Baby Boomers and senior citizens are the most resistant to the Internet; and the young are the most likely to go online eventually

Most of the strongest Internet holdouts are older Americans, who are fretful about the online world and often don’t believe it can bring them any benefits. In contrast, a substantial majority those under 30 who are not currently online say they plan to get access, though the expense of going online still looms as a major issue to them. This suggests that over an extended period of time, perhaps in a generation, Internet penetration will reach the levels enjoyed by the telephone, which is used by 94% of Americans1, and the television, which is used by 98% of Americans.2 Among those most likely to say they plan to get Internet access are parents with children living at home.

  • 87% of those 65 and over do not have Internet access and 59% of those between the ages of 50 and 64 do not go online. In comparison, 65% of those under age 30 have Internet access.
  • 74% of those over 50 who are not online say they don’t plan to get Internet access, while 65% of those under 50 say they plan to get Internet access.
  • 45% of those under 30 believe they are missing out by not being online, while just 26% of those over 64 believe that.
  • 47% of those under 30 believe the Internet is too expensive, while just 29% of those over 64 believe that.
  • 63% of parents with children under 18 who don’t now have Internet access say they will probably or definitely go online.

Concerns of the digital have-nots 

This generational story is often overlooked in discussions of the digital divide. Significant numbers of non-users cite issues besides the cost of computers and Internet access as problems when they think about the online world.

  • 54% of those not online believe the Internet is a dangerous thing.
  • 51% of those not online say they do not think they are missing anything by staying away from the Internet.
  • 39% of those not online say the Internet is too expensive.
  • 36% of those not online express concern that the online world is a confusing and hard place to negotiate.

Gender, race, and ethnicity of those offline

There is gender parity in the Internet population – 50% of those online are women and 50% are men. However, women still lag behind men in their relative participation in the online world. When it comes to race and ethnicity, whites are notably more likely to have Internet access than blacks or Hispanics. Still, there are striking similarities in the online and offline population once the economic situation of various groups is taken into account.

  • 54% of women do not have Internet access; 49% of men do not have access.
  • 50% of whites have access; 36% of blacks have access; 44% of Hispanics have access.
  • 78% of whites in households earning more than $75,000 are online; 79% of Hispanics in similar economic circumstances are online; and 69% of blacks in those types of households are online.
  • 68% of whites in households earning less than $30,000 are not online; 75% of blacks in similar households are not online; and 74% of Hispanics are not online.

Rural scarcity

There is notably less Internet penetration in rural areas than in other types of communities.  A major factor in rural areas is that a relatively large number of residents don’t use computers.

  • 57% of those in rural areas do not have access to the Internet, compared to 47% of those in urban areas and 46% of those in suburban areas.
  • 42% of rural residents do not use computers, compared to 31% of urban residents and 34% of suburban residents who don’t use computers.

Internet dropouts

More than a tenth of those without Internet access once were online. Younger Americans are the most likely to have dropped or lost Internet access.

  • 13% of those who are not online, or about 12 million Americans, have used the Internet at sometime in the past and have since dropped out.
  • Of those who dropped out, 21% say they no longer have a computer, 14% say they changed jobs, 11% say paying for Internet access was too expensive, 9% say they didn’t find the Internet very interesting or useful, and 8% say they were worried about their privacy.

These results emerge from several surveys of the Pew Internet & American Life Project between March and August 2000. Much of the data presented here is from a special survey from April 1 to April 30 that focused on people who do not have Internet access. In that survey 2,503 people were interviewed. Of them, 1,158 said they did not have Internet access and participated in the questions related to the offline population. The margin of error on this survey was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Other data about the overall size of the non-Internet user population came from surveys conducted from March through August, during which 12,751 people have been interviewed – 6,413 of them were Internet users.  The margin of error on these surveys is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Our analysis of the privacy concerns of non-users comes from four consecutive weeks of polling from May 19 through June 21. Some 2,117 persons were interviewed, 1,017 of whom are Internet users. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. A full description of the methodology appears at the end of this report.

  1. Skocpol, Theda and Fiorina, Morris, eds., Civic Engagement in American Democracy, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1999, p.313.
  2. Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, Department of Commerce, NTIA, July 1999, p. 2.
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents