Study: Net growth takes a bump

Half of all adults in the U.S. don't have Net access -- and most of them don't care. But age and income stats show the boom may resume.

WASHINGTON -- The rampant growth of Internet usage has hit a brick wall, according to a new survey released Thursday. Of those currently without Internet access, 57 percent said they have no plans to go online.

But while aging "baby boomers" and senior citizens have little affinity for the Internet, those under 30 have a lust for the online life that could, within a generation, drive Internet penetration levels to surpass those of TV.

Half of all adults in America - some 94 million people - don't have Internet access, according to the survey, which was released by The Pew Internet & American Life Project. That figure, combined with the 57 percent of those not currently online having no interest in getting online, "suggests the booming growth of the American Internet population in the past few years will slow," the survey says. The report also notes that 38 percent of Americans - 70 million - don't use a computer at all.

Fifty-two percent of those who say they will never go online say they consider the Internet hard to use, too expensive and "dangerous" in some fashion. Only 19 percent of the "Nevers" felt they were missing something by not being online. And while 44 percent of them agreed that the Internet might be helpful in finding information, "this limited appeal of the Web as an information utility is not strong enough to lure the Nevers," the survey says.

Of those who say they will never go online, the survey found this group the most likely to hold no opinion about the Net, "which suggests that many have not concerned themselves with the Internet phenomenon," the survey says.

On the flip side, 41 percent of those currently without access exhibited a more optimistic attitude toward going online. This group, labeled the "Eagers," felt like they were indeed missing something by not being online; they were les intimidated by the technology and most intrigued by its possibilities. The group, however, did say that access was too expensive and that the Net was "dangerous," which "might explain why they have not yet taken the plunge" into the online world, the survey says.

The "Nevers," a demographic group that is predominately female and white, aren't easily convinced to go online by "high minded pitches about the civic, educational, or even commercial virtues of the Internet," the survey says. Instead, those looking to draw this group online would do well to consider pushing campaigns that revolve around making the Internet seem more useful to their everyday lives, such as in helping to find health-related information, the survey says.

About 13 percent of those not online did, at some point, have access. They are evenly divided between men and women. Many said job changes are the reason they no longer have access or no longer own a computer. A smaller percentage, 11 percent, said the Net was too expensive.

InterNots are those who have access to computers but don't use them to go online. A majority of this group believes the Internet is dangerous and too expensive.

Curiously, the survey notes that those without Internet access "are less networked in their social lives, less trusting, and more concerned about their privacy being breached," than those who are online.

Such concerns, the survey says, suggests that non-users "as a group have a higher level of concern about interacting with others and few contacts with others."

The survey says such findings shouldn't be surprising given that the largest number of those not online are senior citizens, minorities and those with less education "that tend to be more suspicious and more concerned about their privacy than Americans overall."

The report also bolsters earlier studies showing that the gender gap in online usage has all but vanished, with Web use by men and women roughly equal now. However, the report notes that a disparity still exists between men and women as a percentage of their own populations, since women make up a larger percentage of the overall population. The survey says that one reason for the disparity is that women make up the largest percentage of older citizens, who in turn make up the largest age group of those not online.

The "digital divide" is still alive and kicking, the survey says, with 50 percent of whites having access, compared with 36 percent for blacks and 44 percent for Hispanics. Education and income continue to be the biggest equalizers.

For households with incomes of $75,000 or higher the issue of Internet access is virtually color blind. At those incomes levels some 78 percent of whites have access, compared with 79 percent for Hispanic households and 69 percent for black families.

For homes with less than $30,000 of income, 68 percent of white households aren't online, compared with 75 percent of black homes and 74 percent for Hispanics.

Meanwhile, the survey reports that 75 percent of all those with a college education are online, compared with just 34 percent of high school graduates.

Parenthood, apparently, is good for the future of Internet access. About 44 percent of parents with kids under 18 are not online, compared to 57 percent of non-parents, the survey says. However, 63 percent of all parents not online say they intend to get online "at some point."

The survey is based on aggregate data over six months of telephone interviews between March and August of this year and includes responses from 12,751 participants. The survey has a three percent plus or minus margin of error.


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