America's digital divide is narrowing in some respects, mainly due to the rise of mobile computing, but other metrics indicate that it is solidifying along income, age, and educational lines, according to a new report from the Pew Internet Project .
Some 63 percent of U.S. adults now access the Internet through a mobile device like a cell phone, laptop, ereader, or tablet, Pew reported in asummary of its survey of 2,260 adults aged 18 and older conducted between July 25 and Aug. 26, 2011.
The rise of mobile has helped to narrow the digital divide between white Americans and minorities, according to Pew.
"Even beyond smartphones, both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone, and are more likely to use their phones for a wider range of activities," the report stated.
All told, some 88 percent of American adults own a cell phone, while the breakdown of ownership for other types of mobile devices capable of Internet access was 57 percent for laptops, 19 percent for ereaders, and 19 percent for tablets.
The study also found that adults in their thirties and forties were more likely than younger respondents to say they owned an ereader or a tablet.
The rate at which smartphone users access the Internet with those devices also broke down along demographic lines. Younger smartphone owners, minorities, those with lower income levels, and less educated respondents were "more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access," according to the study.
While mobile devices have given some groups of Americans more access to the Internet than they had when Pew first began studying Internet usage patterns in 2000, there still exists a stark line between Internet haves and have-nots that closely parallels broader patterns of wealth disparity in the country, and also tracks with educational levels, the use of English, and age of respondents.
A full fifth of American adults don't use the Internet at all, according to the Pew report. Looming large among that group were "[s]enior citizens, those who prefer to take our interviews in Spanish rather than English, adults with less than a high school education, and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year."
Half of those respondents who said they don't go online told Pew that "they don't think the Internet is relevant to them." Somewhat shockingly in such a wired age, most non-Internet users said they "have never used the internet before, and don't have anyone in their household who does." Just 10 percent of respondents who don't currently use the Internet said they had any interest in doing so in the future, though 20 percent did say they had enough technological know-how to do so if they wished.
Pew also reported that American adults with disabilities (some 27 percent of the overall population) were "significantly less likely" than their able-bodied counterparts to use the Internet. Just 54 percent of such respondents said they go online compared with 81 percent of adults who don't have a disability, according to the report.