Pew report: Latinos and technology use

Faith Merino · February 9, 2011 · Short URL:

Latinos statistically have lower rates of technology use, but that changes with higher income levels

Technology use has statistically been more prevalent among the young, educated, and more affluent, but a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center looks specifically at technology use within the Hispanic community and finds that while Latinos have lower levels of Internet and cell phone usage compared to whites and blacks, when controlled for education and income, their usage is the same.

The report is the result of the Research Center’s first attempt at using both English- and Spanish-language Pew surveys to learn more about technology use within the Latino community.  Latinos statistically have lower levels of education and income than whites, and this logically translates to lower levels of technology use. 

Approximately half of all of the Hispanic respondents (55%) said that they use the Internet in their home, which is roughly equivalent to black respondents (58%), but that’s a whopping 20 percentage points below white respondents, 75% of whom said they use the Internet in their homes. 

Notably, however, the gap virtually disappears among Hispanic respondents with higher incomes and higher levels of education.  The survey found that 86% of Hispanic respondents with a college degree or higher said that they access the Internet from their home, compared to 88% of whites and 80% of blacks with the same level of education.  The same holds true for income levels: 88% of Latinos with an annual household income of $50,000 or more use the Internet at home, compared to 91% of whites and 88% of blacks. 

Interestingly, however, the gap widens among lower income groups.  Among all race groups with an annual income of less than $30,000 a year, only 43% of Hispanic respondents use the Internet at home, compared to 56% of white respondents with the same level of income. 

The same findings are true for home broadband access: 82% of Latinos in households earning $50,000 a year or more have home broadband access, compared to 85% of whites and 84% of blacks, but among those in households earning $30,000 a year or less, the gap in home broadband access among the different race groups widens.  Among Latino respondents, only 33% of those with annual household incomes of $30K or less have home broadband access, compared to 45% of white respondents and 36% of black respondents.

It would seem likely that the gap in low-income users and technology use is due to language differences and foreign-born status.  Only 37% of Hispanic respondents who reported being Spanish-language dominant said they use the Internet at home, compared to 77% of those who said they’re English-dominant.  Similarly, among those who were born outside of the U.S. to parents who are not American citizens, 45% said they use the Internet at home, compared to 71% of respondents born in the United States.  But this wouldn’t explain why low-income black respondents who don’t have the same language or nativity differences have similar low rates of technology usage.

"The share of Spanish dominant and foreign-born folks among low income Hispanics is very high, and both of these characteristics are associated with lower technology use," said the report's author, Gretchen Livingston, in an email.  "For instance, I find no differences between whites and native-born Hispanics earning less than $30,000 on the likelihood of having a home internet connection."

Where cell phones were concerned, however, Hispanic respondents had higher rates of usage compared to home Internet access.  Among respondents aged 18-29, 90% of Hispanic respondents said they own a cell phone, compared to 99% of whites.  The rate of cell phone ownership among Hispanic and white respondents are identical among those earning less than $30,000 a year: among both groups, 75% of respondents said they own cell phones.  Among those earning $50,000 a year or more, 96% of Latinos said they own cell phones compared to 94% of whites.

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