The digital divide between Blacks and Whites may be more a function of class than race, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The study, entitled “African Americans and Technology Use” and released Jan. 6, found that at the same income levels, there is little discernable difference in Internet use and adoption between African Americans and Caucasian Americans.

Young, college-educated, and higher-income African-Americans mirror Whites of a similar demographic profile in the use of the Internet and the availability of broadband service at home. At least 86 percent of Blacks ages 18-29 are home broadband adopters, as are 88 percent of Black college graduates and 91 percent of African Americans with an annual household income of $75,000 or more per year.

“These figures are all well above the national average for broadband adoption, and are identical to Whites of similar ages, incomes, and education levels,” the report stated.

Social networks are a major draw for African-Americans in cyberspace, particularly younger users. Overall, 73 percent of African-American Internet users—and 96 percent of those ages 18-29—use a social networking site of some kind. Twitter is particularly popular—22 percent of online Blacks are Twitter users, compared with 16 percent of online Whites.

The picture is very different among older, non-college educated African-Americans, who are significantly less likely to go online or to have broadband service at home compared to their White counterparts. African-Americans age 65 and older have especially low Internet adoption rates compared with Whites; a mere 45 percent of Black seniors use the Web, and 30 percent have broadband at home. Among White seniors, 63 percent go online and 51 percent are broadband adopters.

Analyzed together, the survey showed that the digital divide between Whites and Blacks persists, particularly when it comes to traditional means of Internet access. In all, 87 percent of Whites have traditional means of Internet access compared to 80 percent of Blacks. When it comes to home broadband adoption, 74 percent of Whites have some sort of broadband connection at home, compared to 62 percent of Blacks.

However, mobile technologies are helping to bridge the gap. Overall, 72 percent of all African Americans—and 98 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29—have either a broadband connection or a smartphone. Blacks and Whites are equally likely to own any cell phone, including smartphones. About 92 percent of Black adults are cell phone owners, and 56 percent own a smartphone of some kind. While older African Americans trail others in Internet use, they are more likely to own a cell phone. While only 45 percent of African Americans ages 65 and older use the Internet, 77 percent are cell phone owners—only 18 percent, however, own smartphones.)

This report on African Americans and technology is the first in a series of demographic snapshots of how technology has permeated different groups of adults in the United States. It was based on a survey of 6,010 American adults, including 664 who identify as African American.

Advocates have long championed policies to close the digital split between different communities, saying the disparity affects rates of literacy and education, political influence, development and more.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO