Closing the Digital Divide: Latinos and Technology Adoption
Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than do other groups of Americans, according to a new analysis of three surveys by the Pew Research Center.
The analysis also finds that when it comes to using the internet,1 the digital divide between Latinos and whites is smaller than what it had been just a few years ago. Between 2009 and 2012, the share of Latino adults who say they go online at least occasionally increased 14 percentage points, rising from 64% to 78%.2 Among whites, internet use rates also increased, but only by half as much—from 80% in 2009 to 87% in 2012.
Over the same period, the gap in cellphone ownership between Latinos and other groups either diminished or disappeared. In 2012, 86% of Latinos said they owned a cellphone, up from 76% in 2009.
Among the biggest drivers of these increases are spikes in technology adoption among foreign-born Latinos and Spanish-dominant Latinos, the surveys found. Both groups’ rates of going online and cellphone ownership increased sharply since 2009, helping to reduce the digital divide between Latinos and whites—and also reducing gaps within the Latino community itself.
Technology Adoption and Going Online
When it comes to owning a smartphone, going online from a mobile device and using social networking sites, Latinos are just as connected as other Americans. According to the Pew Research analysis:
- Cellphone ownership: Fully 86% of Latinos say they own a cellphone, a share similar to that of whites (84%) and blacks (90%).
- Smartphone Ownership: Among adults, Latinos are just as likely as whites or blacks to own a smartphone—49% versus 46% and 50% respectively.
- Going Online from a Mobile Device: Latino internet users are more likely than white internet users to say they go online using a mobile device—76% versus 60%. Meanwhile, Latino and black internet users are equally likely to access the internet from a mobile device—76% and 73% respectively.3
- Social Networking Site Use: Among internet users, similar shares of Latinos (68%), whites (66%) and blacks (69%) say they use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook at least occasionally.
While Latinos use mobile and social networking technologies at rates similar to those of other groups, they lag whites when it comes to owning a desktop or laptop computer or accessing the internet (with or without a mobile device). According to the Pew Research analysis:
- Computer Ownership: Some 72% of Latinos say they own a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 83% of whites. Among blacks, 70% are computer owners.
- Internet Use: Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) Latino adults go online at least occasionally, compared with 87% of whites and 78% of blacks.
Demographics and Patterns of Adoption
Among Latinos, among whites and among blacks, three key demographic characteristics are correlated with technology adoption. Young people ages 18 to 29 have higher adoption rates than those ages 65 and older. Levels of educational attainment are also linked to adoption rates–those with some college experience have higher technology adoption rates than those with less than a high school diploma. And annual family income is correlated with technology adoption–those with higher incomes also have higher adoption rates than those with lower incomes.
For example, smartphone ownership is correlated with age among Latinos and among whites.4 Among Latinos, 66% of those ages 18 to 29 say they own a smartphone while just 14% of those ages 65 and older say the same. Among whites, two-third (66%) of young people ages 18 to 29 own a smartphone while 17% of those ages 65 and older say they own one.5
This report is based on three Pew Research Center surveys. The first survey is the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 National Survey of Latinos (NSL). The 2012 NSL is a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey of 1,765 Latino adults with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The survey was fielded from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4, 2012. For a full description of the 2012 NSL’s survey methodology, see Appendix B.
The second survey is the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’ nationally representative Biennial Media Consumption Survey (2012b) of 3,003 adults conducted between May 9 and June 3, 2012. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval. The third survey is the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project 2012 Health Tracking Survey (Fox and Duggan, 2013). It is a nationally representative sample of 3,014 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval.
Other key findings include:
- Nearly all Hispanics from families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more (95%), Hispanics from families with annual incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 (93%) and Hispanics ages 18 to 29 (93%) say they go online at least occasionally.
- Just one-third (33%) of Latinos ages 65 and older say they use the internet at least occasionally.
- Half (50%) of Hispanic internet users are native born and half are foreign born. By contrast, among Hispanics who do not use the internet, just 21% are native born while 79% are foreign born.
- Among Latino internet users, 72% are either English dominant (31%) or bilingual (41%), and 28% are Spanish dominant. By contrast, among Latino non-internet users, fewer than half (42%) are either English dominant (13%) or bilingual (29%), while 58% are Spanish dominant.
Going Online through a Mobile Device
- Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) Latino internet users ages 18 to 29 and Latino internet users from families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more say they access the internet through a mobile device at least occasionally.
- Among Hispanic internet users ages 65 and older, just 29% say they access the internet through a mobile device.
- Cellphone ownership rates are highest among Latinos from families with annual incomes above $50,000 (97%) , Latinos ages 18 to 29 (96%) and Latinos from families with annual incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 (95%).
- Cellphone ownership rates are lowest among Spanish-dominant Hispanics (78%), Hispanics with less than a high school diploma (77%) and Hispanics ages 65 and older (56%).
- Among Latinos who do not own cellphones, 76% are foreign born and 24% are native born. In addition, nearly six-in-ten (57%) are Spanish dominant, 30% are bilingual and 13% are English dominant.
- The highest smartphone ownership rates are among Hispanics from families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more (76%).
- Smartphone ownership rates are lowest among Hispanics ages 65 and older (14%).
- Most Latino smartphone owners are native born (54%). By contrast, most Latinos who do not own a smartphone are foreign born (58%).
- Fully 95% of Latinos from families with annual incomes of $50,000 or more own a desktop or laptop computer—the highest ownership rate among Latinos. By contrast, just 35% of Latinos ages 65 and older own a desktop or laptop computer.
- Half (50%) of Hispanic computer owners are foreign born. By comparison, 73% of Hispanics who do not own a computer are foreign born.
Using Social Networking Sites
- Fully 84% of Latino internet users ages 18 to 29 say they use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the highest rate among Latinos.
- Just 27% of Hispanic internet users ages 65 and older say they use social networking sites.
- Some 54% of Latinos who use social media are U.S. born. By contrast, foreign-born Latinos make up the majority (57%) of Latino internet users who do not use social media.
- Among Latinos who use social networking sites, 60% say they do so mostly or only in English, 29% say they do so mostly or only in Spanish and 11% say they use both English and Spanish equally.
Among native-born Latinos who use social networking sites, 86% do so mostly or only in English. By contrast, among immigrant Latinos who use social networking sites, more than half (55%) do so mostly or only in Spanish.
About this Report
This report explores social media, digital technology and mobile technology use among Latinos, whites and blacks in 2012. The data used in this report are derived primarily from the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 National Survey of Latinos (NSL), which was conducted from Sept. 7 through Oct. 4, 2012, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia among a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 1,765 Latino adults. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish on cellular as well as landline telephones. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Interviews were conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS).
The report also utilizes data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’ Biennial Media Consumption Survey (2012b), which was conducted between May 9 and June 3, 2012, among a nationally representative sample of 3,003 adults, including 2,202 whites and 281 blacks. It also utilizes data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project’s Health Tracking Survey (Fox and Duggan, 2013), which was conducted between Aug. 7 and Sept. 6, 2012, among a nationally representative sample of 3,014 adults, including 1,864 whites and 497 blacks.
This report was written by Associate Director Mark Hugo Lopez, Research Associate Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Research Assistant Eileen Patten. Paul Taylor, Scott Keeter, Leah Christian, Michael Dimock, Gretchen Livingston, Lee Rainie and Aaron Smith provided editorial guidance. The author thanks Taylor, Keeter, Christian, Livingston, Patten, Rakesh Kochhar, Rich Morin, Seth Motel, Kim Parker and Antonio Rodriguez for guidance on the development of the survey instrument. Motel also provided research assistance. Livingston and Patten number-checked the report. Molly Rohal was the copy editor.
A Note on Terminology
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.
The terms “whites” and “blacks” are used to refer to the non-Hispanic components of their populations.
“Native born” or “U.S. born” refers to persons born in the United States and those born in other countries to parents at least one of whom was a U.S. citizen.
“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. Although individuals born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens by birth, they are included among the foreign born because they are born into a Spanish-dominant culture and because on many points their attitudes, views and beliefs are much closer to Hispanics born abroad than to Hispanics born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
Language dominance is a composite measure based on self-described assessments of speaking and reading abilities. “Spanish-dominant” persons are more proficient in Spanish than in English, i.e., they speak and read Spanish “very well” or “pretty well” but rate their ability to speak and read English lower. “Bilingual” refers to persons who are proficient in both English and Spanish. “English-dominant” persons are more proficient in English than in Spanish.
- Internet users are those who say they use the internet at least occasionally or say they send or receive email at least occasionally. ↩
- The Pew Research Hispanic Center has been collecting data regarding ethnic differences in technology use since 2006. See Fox and Livingston (2007); Livingston, Parker and Fox (2009); Livingston (2010); Livingston and Lopez (2010) and Livingston (2011). Data collected prior to 2009 are not directly comparable to results shown here because they are based on a different survey methodology. ↩
- Overall, Latinos are less likely to be online than their white counterparts. Nonetheless, Latinos are still more likely than whites to access the internet from a mobile device. According to the Pew Hispanic survey, among all Latino adults, 59% say they access the internet from a mobile device. By contrast, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Biennial Media Consumption Survey, a smaller share of white adults—53%—say they access the internet from a mobile device. Among black adults, 58% say they go online from a mobile device, a share similar to that of Latinos. ↩
- The sample size for blacks is too small to show smartphone ownership rates by age groups. ↩
- See Appendix A for detailed demographic tables showing technology adoption rates by race and ethnicity. ↩