18 April 2003
Survey Shows Ever-Changing Patterns in U.S. Internet Use
(Previous growth of online population has slowed) (1770)
The percentage of Americans using the Internet has remained steady
between 57 and 61 percent for the last two years, ending the steady
yearly increases in usage seen prior to that time. The findings
released April 16 on online behavior come from the Pew Internet and
American Life Project, a nonprofit research organization conducting
periodic studies of the online world.
The American online population is "fluid and shifting," according to a
summary of the new report that focuses particularly on those
population segments that say they do not use the Internet. "The
Ever-Shifting Internet Population" is based on surveys of more than
3500 Americans. It finds 24 percent "truly offline" with no direct or
indirect Internet experience.
Twenty percent of respondents are described as "net evaders" who don't
go online themselves, but receive information or communicate in
cyberspace through a household member. People who had once been online
regularly but had discontinued their use for various reason were
described as "net dropouts" and made up 17 percent of the survey
"The road to Internet use is paved with bumps and turnarounds --
brought on by economic difficulties, waning interest in going online,
or more pressing demands," according to the survey summary.
Even though the report finds significant numbers of Americans are not
online, it also finds than non-users have close proximity to the
Internet through a family member, friend or a public access location
in the community.
The report is available in full at
Following is the text of the report summary:
PEW INTERNET AND AMERICAN LIFE PROJECT
The Ever-Shifting Internet Population:
A new look at Internet access and the digital divide
Summary of Findings
A new sense of the shifting Internet population
The online population is fluid and shifting. While 42% of Americans
say they don't use the Internet, many of them either have been
Internet users at one time or have a once-removed relationship with
the Internet through family or household members. This report focuses
on several new findings about those who say they do not use the
--Net Evaders: 20% of non-Internet users live with someone who uses
the Internet from home. Some of these self-described non-users exploit
workarounds that allow them to "use" the Internet by having email sent
and received by online family members and by having others in their
home do online searches for information they want. Others proudly
reject the Internet and proclaim their independence from the online
--Net Dropouts: 17% of non-Internet users were once users. Most of
them are dropouts because of technical problems such as broken
computers or problems with their Internet Service Provider. This
number of "Net Dropouts" has increased from the last time the Pew
Internet & American Life Project asked about dropouts in April 2000.
At that time, 13% of non-users were Net Dropouts.
--Truly Disconnected: Some 24% of Americans are truly offline; they
have no direct or indirect experience with the Internet.
Internet access is also fluid for another reason. Between a quarter
and half of current Internet users say they have dropped offline for
an extended period at one point or another in their online life. To be
sure, some users have progressed smoothly from non-use to steady use
with few, if any interruptions. But the Project's latest data show
that for many others, the road to Internet use is paved with bumps and
turnarounds- brought on by economic difficulties, waning interest in
going online, or more pressing demands on their time.
Pew Internet Project tracking data show a flattening of the overall
growth of the Internet population since late 2001. Internet
penetration rates have hovered between 57% and 61% since October 2001,
rather than pursuing the steady climb that they had showed in prior
years. One possible explanation for this leveling trend is that the
number of people dropping offline roughly equals the number of
newcomers who come online each month. The lack of growth might also be
tied to a struggling economy that leaves some families worried about
household finances. Or it may be that we have reached a point where
the adoption curve has peaked and the market is no longer working to
bring online new groups of Internet users. Whatever the reason, it
merits continued surveillance.
Most non-users live physically and socially close to the Internet
Internet use is so normalized in America that even most non-users say
they are in close proximity to the Internet. They either have friends
or family who use the Internet or they know of public access locations
in their communities.
--60% of non-users know of a place in their community where Internet
access is publicly available, while 76% of Internet users know of
public access sites. Most of those who know of local access points say
those access points are easy to reach. The most frequently identified
location of public access is a library.
--74% of non-users say they have family members and close friends who
--27% of non-users say that very few or none of the people they know
Internet access has grown across-the-board, but clear demographic gaps
Our surveys have shown that growth in the Internet population has
occurred across every demographic group. Still, there remain a variety
of factors that separate Internet users from non-users. On the
--Younger Americans are much more wired than older Americans.
--Well-to-do Americans are more wired that less well-off Americans,
and the employed are far more wired than the unemployed.
--White Americans are more wired than African-Americans and Hispanics.
--Well-educated Americans are more wired than those who only completed
--Suburban and urban residents are more wired than rural residents.
--Parents of children living at home are more wired than non-parents.
There are also social differences between Internet users and non-users
Our survey explored other dimensions of the social world of Americans
with respect to Internet use. The research indicates:
--Those who are socially content--who trust others, have lots of
people to draw on for support, and who believe that others are
generally fair--are more likely to be wired than those who are less
content. There is also some modest evidence that those with positive
and outward orientation towards the world are more wired than those
who are worried about America and more focused inward.
--Those who feel they have control over their lives are more likely to
be wired than those who feel they do not have much control of their
--Those who read newspapers, watch TV, and use cell phones and other
technologies are more likely to use the Internet than those who don't.
The majority of non-users say they do not plan to go online
Some 56% of non-Internet users do not think they will ever go online.
These people are generally the poorer, older segment of the not-online
population, and are more likely to be white, female, retired and
living in rural areas.
Non-users say they feel no need or desire to use the Internet, or that
going online is not a good use of their time. This nonchalance and
resistance is often related to a general misconception of what the Web
and email have to offer. In other cases, reluctance is connected to
specific obstacles, fears, or previous online experiences.
About a third of non-Internet users say the cost of computers and
Internet access is a major problem for them. An even larger number of
non-users said they have not gone online because they are worried
about online pornography, credit card theft, and fraud. Some 29% say
they don't have time to use the Internet, and 27% say they believe the
Internet is too complicated and hard to understand.
During interviews, non-users or brand new users offered us a host of
reasons that keep them offline. Some were embarrassed over lack of
computer skills. Others feared breaking or damaging computers. Some
were afraid of appearing stupid or foolish in front of family,
friends, coworkers or employees. Others were slowed down by limited
English language skills. While not a part of our survey, problems with
basic literacy in any language are another barrier to full Internet
use. The National Adult Literacy Survey by the U.S. Department of
Education estimates that up to 23% of the U.S. population struggles
enough with literacy that they have difficulty completing everyday
Some 40% of non-users say they think they will go online some day.
This group is younger than the group that says it has no plans to go
online. These prospective Internet users are evenly divided between
men and women, and more likely to be urban dwellers and parents. They
are also more likely to be black or Hispanic than to be white.
A special look at the disabled and the Internet
The disabled have among the lowest levels of Internet access in
America. They face unique hurdles going online. Disabled non-users are
less likely than other non-users to believe that they will ever use
the Internet and less likely than others to live physically and
socially close to the Internet. Disabled Americans are less likely to
have friends or family who go online.
--38% of disabled Americans go online, compared to 58% of all
Americans. Of the disabled who do go online, a fifth say their
disability makes using the Internet difficult.
--28% of disabled non-users say their disability makes it difficult or
impossible for them to go online.
The cost of technological and software solutions to various
disabilities is expensive
-- $3,000 for a Braille computer interface, for example. The high cost
of Internet-adaptive technologies, combined with the relatively
smaller incomes of the disabled, make Internet use prohibitively
expensive for many.
This research is based primarily on a national telephone survey
conducted among 3,553 Americans between March 1-31 and May 2-19, 2002.
Other data in the survey are drawn from other Pew Internet Project
phone surveys in March, April and May-June 2000 and December 2002.
Further insights were gathered during in-depth interviews with
non-users and new Internet users, most of which took place at greater
Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area community technology centers over
the summer of 2002. For more detailed methodological information,
please see the methodology section at the end of this report.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)