Report: U.S. Digital Divide Melting Away

New data from research firm Media Metrix shows that while the Net is still generally dominated by those with higher incomes, the number of U.S. users with low incomes is growing faster than any other group.

The Internet presence of those in the under-$25,000 (US$) income bracket grew nearly 50 percent between June 1999 and June 2000, the study said. That group, which makes up nearly a third of the overall U.S. population according to the U.S. Census Bureau, represents 9.7 percent of the online population.

The lowest rate of growth was among those with incomes of $75,000 and over.

“The Internet, while smaller in size than the general U.S. population, clearly looks more like the mainstream population than ever before,” the study said.

Subtle Shift

The highest income group studied, consisting of those earning more than $100,000, represents close to 18 percent of the online population, but only 10.5 percent of total U.S. households. However, the number of users in the two lowest-income categories — under $25,000 and $25,000-$40,000 — jumped from 7.9 percent to 9.7 percent and 16.2 to 18.7 percent of the online population, respectively.

At the same time, the percentage of Internet users in the higher-income brackets actually decreased from 28.3 percent to 27.3 percent.

“The change in household income composition year-over-year does, however, suggest at least a subtle shift in distribution,” the study said.

Media Metrix cited several reasons for the shift, including falling computer prices, increased technological ease-of-use, and improved access to the Internet in professional, academic and community environments.

Striking Differences

According to the study, the relationship between income and online usage patterns continues to be striking, with distinct preferences between the brackets.

Higher-income users spend less time online and view fewer pages than their lower-earning counterparts. Those at the higher income level spent close to nine hours a month online, while those at the lower income level spent about 13 hours per month, viewed more pages and stayed on each page longer.

Narrow Window for Targeting Wealthy

Content preference also differs markedly between the Internet users in the various income brackets. Web surfers in the $60,000-$75,000 bracket are most interested in hobby/leisure and sports sites, while those in the $75,000-$100,000 group are most interested in automotive sites, and least interested in careers and health.

Those with incomes more than $100,000 are mainly interested in travel and financial sites, and least interested in community-related sites.

“The window of opportunity for accessing this critical consumer base is a comparatively narrow one and growing more so over time as high-income users establish more focused usage patterns,” the study said.

The lowest income group visited auction and career sites the most, while representing the smallest percentage of visitors at travel sites.

Media Metrix surveyed 55,000 Internet users in conducting the study.

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