December 22, 2009

Latinos Online, 2006-2008: Narrowing the Gap

I. Overview

From 2006 to 2008, internet use among Latino adults rose by 10 percentage points, from 54%1 to 64%. In comparison, the rates for whites rose four percentage points, and the rates for blacks rose only two percentage points during that time period. Though Latinos continue to lag behind whites, the gap in internet use has shrunk considerably.

For Latinos, the increase in internet use has been fueled in large part by increases in internet use among groups that have typically had very low rates of internet use.2

Whereas Latinos gained markedly in overall internet use, the pattern of home internet access changed very little. In 2006, 79% of Latinos who were online had internet access at home, while in 2008, this number was 81%. White and black internet users show a similar leveling off. In 2006, 92% of white internet users had a home connection, compared with 94% in 2008. In 2006, 84% of African American internet users had a home connection, compared with 87% in 2008.

While there was little increase in the likelihood of having a home connection among internet users from 2006 to 2008, rates of broadband connection increased dramatically for Hispanics, as well as for whites and blacks. In 2006, 63% of Hispanics with home internet access had a broadband connection; in 2008 this number was 76%. For whites, there was a 17 percentage point increase in broadband connection from 65% to 82%, and for blacks, the increase was from 63% in 2006 to 78% in 2008.

In order to maintain comparability across years, all results are based upon landline telephone surveys conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet & American Life Project from February to October 2006, and from August to December 2008. During this same time period, there was a dramatic increase in the proportion of people living in households with only cell phones, and no landline telephones.3

The rapid increase in cell-only populations, particularly for Latinos and African Americans, coupled with the fact that people in cell-only households tend to be slightly more likely to use other forms of technology than people who are reachable via landline telephone, suggests that if anything, the results shown here may underestimate increases in internet use, especially for Latinos and African Americans.4

Other key findings include:

About this Report

This report focuses on patterns of technology use among Latinos, whites, and African Americans from 2006 to 2008. The estimates used in the report are derived from a total of eight telephone surveys, three of which were conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center, and five of which were conducted for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. All told, the Pew Hispanic Center surveys interviewed 7,554 adults, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys interviewed 13,687 adults.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report, as are the terms “foreign born” and “immigrant.”

All references to whites, blacks, Asians and others are to the non-Hispanic components of those populations.

“Foreign born” refers to persons born outside of the United States to parents neither of whom was a U.S. citizen. Foreign born also refers to those born in Puerto Rico.

“Native born” refers to persons born in the United States and those born abroad to parents at least one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

  1. Results for 2006 differ from those reported in the 2007 Latinos Online report, because more survey datasets have been combined here in order to increase sample size, and because “don’t know” and “refused” values were omitted from the denominators when calculating rates for the 2007 report, while “don’t know” and “refused” values are included in the denominators when calculating rates for this report.
  2. Conversely, some groups, such as college graduates, are approaching nearly universal internet access. Given that they may have reached a saturation point, it is not surprising that they are experiencing minimal growth in this measure of technology use.
  3. In 2006, 15% of Latinos lived in cell-only households, and in 2008, this number was 25%. For African Americans, 13% lived in cell-only households in 2006 compared with 21% in 2008. Among whites, the share of residents in cell-only households increased from 11% in 2006 to 17% in 2008 (Blumberg and Luke 2009).
  4. The surveys used to compare changes in internet use among Hispanics did not include cell phone samples. Studies by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press have documented that the exclusion of cell phone samples produces only small levels of bias on most questions, but measures of technology use tend to be affected more by the absence of cell phones than other kinds of measures.
    Across seven different estimates of internet use (including broadband, wireless internet, smart phone and social networking) in People-Press surveys in 2008 and 2009, Hispanic respondents in the dual-frame samples (those that included cell phones) varied from 2 points lower to 5 points higher, compared with respondents in the landline samples only. The mean difference for the items was 2.3 percentage points and the median difference was 3 percentage points.