Study: wealth a significant factor in Web use

Faith Merino · November 24, 2010 · Short URL:

The Pew study finds that users in higher-income households use Internet more frequently

A new study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project finds that households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are more likely to use the Internet at home, own several Internet-ready devices, and have a high-speed Internet connection compared to less well-off households.  

This may not seem like much, but the differences are pretty stark.  Of individuals living in households making more than $75,000 a year, 95% said they use the Internet at least occasionally, compared to 70% of those in households making less than $75,000.  Additionally, of those higher-income Internet users, 99% use the Internet at home, compared to 93% of those earning less, and 93% have some kind of Broadband connection at home compared to 85% of users in lower income brackets.

Interestingly, the study found that even when it controlled for typically influential factors such as age, gender, race, and education level, those in higher income brackets were consistently more likely to use the Internet and email than those in lower income brackets.  This carried across other technology categories as well, including cell phone ownership.  Of households making more than $75,000 a year, 95% own cell phones compared to 83% of those making less.  Higher-income houses are also more likely to own laptops compared to lower-income households (79% to 47% respectively), own iPods or other MP3 players (70% compared to 42% of those in less well-off homes), as well as own game consoles, e-readers, and tablets.

“Regardless of the control factor, those in the higher-income bracket were statistically significantly more likely to be internet and email users than those in the other income brackets with the same control factor,” the report notes.  “Simply put, a person’s household income is an independent predictor of the likelihood that she or he will be an internet and email user.”

In addition to the frequency of Internet usage in higher-income homes, respondents living in higher income households are also more likely to engage in various online activities like shopping on e-commerce sites, reading the news, researching products and medical issues, paying bills, getting financial updates, and searching for maps.  Overall, the study found that 86% of Web users from higher income households go online daily, compared to 54% in the lowest income bracket. 

A full 80% of users from higher-income households use the Internet to get their news and 79% have visited a political website at the federal, state, or local level, compared to 60% and 56% of users in the lowest income bracket, respectively.

Medical information-seeking is also an online activity that significantly more users from wealthy households engage in compared to less wealthy users.  Among higher-income households, 80% use the Internet to research medical conditions compared to 54% of those in the lowest income bracket (although it might be fair to say that if you’re living in a household with a combined income of less than $30,000 a year, you don’t really want to know how serious your medical condition is).

“The correlation between higher income and increased internet usage was consistent for nearly every online activity and technology,“ said Jim Jansen, senior research fellow at the Pew Research Center and author of the report.

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