Education, age and class continue to create a 'digital divide' in internet use and access, according to new research led by the University of Leicester.
An unprecedented analysis has found that -- despite a number of government policies aimed at tackling the issue -- inequalities in Internet access and use mirror those evident in other areas of society.
Research conducted by Dr Patrick White, a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester, suggests that adults with lower levels of education, those older than 65, and those working in manual jobs, were less likely to use the Internet for banking, purchasing, looking for work or accessing government services.
These inequalities continue, despite an increase in Internet access and use during the first decade of the 21st century.
The study, published in the journal Information, Communication and Society, and co-authored with Professor Neil Selwyn of Monash University, analysed data on more than 47,000 adults from 2002 to 2010.
The data was collected by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).
The proportion of respondents reporting Internet access rose from 43 per cent to over 71 per cent over the nine years covered.
However, individuals in occupational classes ABC1 -- roughly corresponding to "middle class" -- were still over three and half times more likely to report having online access compared to those in classes C2DE -- roughly denoting "working class" -- in 2010.
Education and age were also found to be strongly related to access. Respondents who had stayed in full-time education beyond the age of 16 or had recently participated in learning were more than twice as likely to have Internet access while those aged over 65 years were five times less likely to report be able to go online at home.
Using the Internet for banking, purchasing, looking for work and accessing government services all rose over the period studied but were still minority activities, even among those with Internet access at home.
Being younger, a member of class ABC1 and having a history of educational participation increased the chances of making online purchases, and class and education were similarly related to accessing government services online.
Class was also related to using online banking services, while youth and education were the most important factors in increasing the likelihood of using the Internet to look for work. Ethnicity was only strongly linked to one of the uses, with those describing themselves as White being more likely to purchase goods or services online. After other factors has been controlled for, no substantial differences between male and females were found, suggesting there is little in the way of a 'sex divide' in terms of basic access and use.
Dr White said: "Although Internet access and use have increased substantially over the past decade, the increases among some groups have been quicker.
"In what is now a familiar trend, those groups who are already relatively advantaged -- the young, educated and those with higher status occupations -- have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet at a faster pace than the rest of society.
"There is a danger that rather than serving to equalize opportunities, as some had hoped, the Internet is merely reinforcing the inequalities that exist elsewhere in society.
"Clearly, addressing the 'digital divide' requires more than just providing access to the appropriate technology -- patterns of use are rooted in social, rather than just technical, problems. Any effective solutions will have to address this social aspect of the problem."
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