African American tech use: same and different

The Pew Internet & American Life Project this week released results from African Americans and Technology Use: A Demographic Portrait. This is from “... a series of demographic snapshots of technology use and adoption among different groups of adults.”

The findings are interesting and complex. Specifically, “The black/white ‘digital divide’ continues to persist, but is not consistent across technology platforms or demographic groups.” When examined, though, the differences appear as much a matter of income and education as race.

Nevertheless, as a group, “African Americans have long been less likely than whites to use the internet and to have high speed broadband access at home, and that continues to be the case.” However, the gap is not gaping or insurmountable. Over all, African Americans Internet users trail whites by just seven percent. However, this number rises to 12 percent when it comes to home broadband.

But, “... blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms.” For instance, “Some 92% of black adults are cell phone owners, and 56% own a smartphone of some kind.” In fact, the report shows that blacks over 18 hold a slight, although not significant, edge in cell phone ownership over whites – 92 to 90 percent. And in smartphone ownership, African Americans hold a three point lead – 56 to 53 percent.

Aggregate figures on African Americans can be misleading. As the report notes, “... young, college-educated, and higher-income African Americans are just as likely as their white counterparts to use the internet and to have broadband service at home.” And, “Fully 40% of 18-29 year old African Americans who use the internet say that they use Twitter.” That’s significantly higher than the 28 percent of young whites who use Twitter. And among people with some college, 71 percent of African Americans own cell phones, compared to 58 percent of whites who do.

In truth, the lag among African Americans seems centered in the older, more rural and less educated subsets. It is these groups – of all races and ethnicities – who need additional access and training to give them equal opportunity to use today’s communications technology.

African Americans and Technology Use (Pew Internet & American Life Project poll, Jan. 6, 2013)