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The Stubborn Persistence of America's Digital Divide

The Census Bureau's latest data tracking internet and computer use in American homes suggest that both have become ubiquitous with impressive speed. About three-fourths of American households now boast both technologies, according to the Current Population Survey's data, collected through late 2012. That's up from 8.2 percent for computers back in 1984, and 18 percent for the Internet in 1997, when most of us who were online were dialing up to get there.

That trajectory, however, conceals the wide demographic gaps that still exist in home Internet penetration. As of 2012, the most glaring disparity isn't by race (these are individuals 3 years old and older, not households):

It's by education:

...and income:

The quarter of American households still without Internet, not surprisingly, are disproportionately made up of families with less income and education. Of these 25 percent, half say they simply don't want Internet, and about a quarter say it's too expensive. As computers are increasingly replaced by other devices, from phones to tablets, any gap in penetration will seem less significant. Differences in internet access, though, will only become more so.

This year, the American Community Survey plans to start collecting this same data for the first time at the city and county level, enabling us to track which metros have done a better job of narrowing that divide.

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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