Pew: Much of the Population Remains Offline

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While the Internet has become part of many Americans' lives, almost one in four in the United States still have no direct or indirect online experience, according to a study released this month by Pew Internet and American Life Project.


Also, 42 percent of Americans say they don't use the Internet, Washington-based Pew Internet Project reported.


Of those, 20 percent are "Net evaders," people who don't use the Internet but live with people who do and rely on them to do searches and send and receive e-mail for them, the study said. Notably, 28 percent of Net evaders have used the Internet in the past. Many said they didn't find it interesting or useful.


Seventeen percent of those who say they don't use the Internet were once users but dropped out because of problems with their computers or their Internet service providers, the study said.


The Internet dropout rate apparently is rising slightly. In April 2000, the previous time Pew Internet Project surveyed for dropouts, the rate was 13 percent. The most recent report was based on focus groups and a survey of 3,553 people conducted in spring 2002.


Twenty-four percent of Americans say they have no direct or indirect experience with the Internet. Dubbed "The Truly Unconnected" by Pew Internet Project, 31 percent of them say that few or none of the people they know go online. Fifty-nine percent are female, 43 percent live in households earning less than $30,000 and 29 percent live in households earning less than $20,000. Three-quarters of this group are white, 15 percent are African-American and 9 percent are Hispanic. Sixty-two percent are older than 50.


Meanwhile, the growth of Internet use has stalled as online penetration rates have hovered between 57 percent and 61 percent since October 2001, the Pew Internet Project said. However, the Internet population is not static.


"One possible explanation for this leveling-off trend is that the number of people dropping offline roughly equals the number of newcomers who come online each month," the study said.


Twenty-seven percent of Internet users said they have gone offline for an extended period, according to Pew Internet Project.


"The existence of this group suggests that access to the Internet is not constant for a large percentage of the online population," the study said. "People get fed up, cut off or other aspects of life get in the way of their use of the Internet." Intermittent users are disproportionately young, single, students and minorities, and not full-time workers.


In other findings, many who don't use the Internet are diehards. Some 56 percent of non-users say they do not think they'll ever go online, Pew Internet Project reported. Of those who say they'll never go online, 71 percent are older than 50, and 41 percent are older than 65.


A greater percentage of African-Americans are not online than whites, but Hispanics are making gains, the study said. While 40 percent of whites surveyed said they did not use the Internet, 55 percent of African-Americans said they did not use it, as did 46 percent of English-speaking Hispanics.


Of whites and English-speaking Hispanics who live in households making $50,000 or more annually, 82 percent go online compared with 65 percent of African-American households at the same income level, the study said.


In households making less than $20,000 yearly, 32 percent of whites, 28 percent of English-speaking Hispanics and 24 percent of African-Americans go online, the study said.


Not surprisingly, age also is a major factor. Half of all non-Internet users are older than 50. Also, 28 percent are 65 or older, while 14 percent are 18 to 29.


Geographically, Southerners are least likely to be online with 45 percent still not using the Internet, Pew Internet Project said. Forty-four percent of Midwesterners are not online, compared with 41 percent of Northeasterners. The West has the fewest percentage not online with 37 percent, the study said.


Fear also is an issue among non-users. Of those who do not use the Internet, 43 percent said it was because they feared online criminal activity and pornography. Fifty-two percent said they simply don't need or want it.


Thirty percent of non-users cited cost as the major reason, while 29 percent said they lacked enough time to go online. A little more than 25 percent of non-users said the Internet is too complicated.


Though 72 percent said they thought the Internet would help them find things more easily, 56 percent said that the Internet is dangerous. Fifty-four percent of non-users think they aren't missing out on anything. Half of all non-users think the Internet is almost exclusively for entertainment.


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