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Digital Divide Among School-Age Children Narrows, but Millions Still Lack Internet Connections

December 11, 2018 by Rafi Goldberg, Policy Analyst, Office of Policy Analysis and Development

America continues to make significant strides in reducing the digital divide among school-age children, according to NTIA’s November 2017 Internet Use Survey. In 2017, 14 percent of the U.S. population between ages 6 and 17 lived in homes with no Internet service, down from 19 percent in 2015 (see Figure 1). These are encouraging numbers that echo our previous report on the narrowing digital divide.

Figure 1: School-Age Children Lacking Internet Service at Home

Still, significant challenges remain, especially for the approximately 7 million school-age children that lived in households without home Internet service in 2017. These children were also less likely than their peers to use the Internet from other locations.

Among children in offline households, just 16 percent went online while at school, and only 5 percent used the Internet from a library or community center, compared with 60 percent and 20 percent of children with home Internet service, respectively. In fact, only 20 percent of school-age children living in offline households used the Internet at all, leaving nearly 6 million of the 7 million children even less connected as schools increasingly rely upon online resources for communication with parents and instruction.

The Internet has taken on an increasingly prominent role in school curricula, and children use home Internet connections to complete school assignments, connect with their classmates and pursue their various interests and hobbies. Children who can’t get online are at risk of missing opportunities to advance their education. That danger is even more present among those communities that have historically faced increased challenges.

Children in households without home Internet service tend to have lower family incomes than their peers. Sixty percent of school-age children in these offline households had family incomes of less than $50,000 per year. In households with incomes below $25,000, 74 percent of children had Internet service at home, compared with 92 percent of children in households making $100,000 or more.

There are also disparities in children’s access to the Internet at home based on factors like race and population density. For example, while 88 percent of White and Asian American school-age children lived in households with home Internet service, only 81 percent of African American and 83 percent of Hispanic children have access to this vital resource at home. Among school-age children in urban households, 86 percent had Internet service at home, compared with 82 percent of their rural counterparts. These disparities, however, have shrunk since we began tracking them, particularly in the case of race or ethnicity (see Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2: School-Age Children Living in Households with Home Internet Service by Race

Figure 3: School-Age Children Living in Households with Home Internet Service by Population Density

NTIA will continue analyzing these trends and barriers to online access that affect all Americans—including children—as well as devising forward-looking strategies for addressing these disparities.

This is the third post in NTIA’s series on the results of the November 2017 CPS Computer and Internet Use Supplement. You can sign up for the Data Central mailing list to receive future posts.

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