Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use [click for pdf copy of a final draft of the full paper]

by Paul DiMaggio, Eszter Hargittai, Coral Celeste and Steven Shafer

2004. In Social Inequality. Edited by Kathryn Neckerman. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. pp. 355-400.

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This paper reviews what we know about inequality in access to and use of new digital technologies. Until recently, most research has focused on inequality in access (the "digital divide"), measured in a variety of ways. We agree that inequality of access is important, because it is likely to reinforce inequality in opportunities for economic mobility and social participation. At the same time we argue that a more thorough understanding of digital inequality requires placing Internet access in a broader theoretical context, and asking a wider range of questions about the impact of information technologies and informational goods on social inequality. In particular, five key issues around which we structure this paper.
(1) The digital divide. Who has access to the Internet, who does not have access, and how has this changed?
(2) Is access to and use of the Internet more or less unequal than access to and use of other forms of information technology?
(3) Inequality among persons with access to the Internet.
(4) Does access to and use of the Internet affect people's life chances
(5) How might the changing technology, regulatory environment and industrial organization of the Internet render obsolete the findings reported hear?

I. Introduction

A brief history of the Internet
Technology and inequality: a selective tour of social-scientific perspectives
II. The Digital Divide
Persistent disagreement
What do we mean by access?
Which divide?
Which measures?
Interpreting the trends
The digital divide: a research agenda
III. How Does Online Inequality compare to Inequality in the Use of Other Media?
Comparing Media Sources: A Research Agenda
IV. Beyond the Digital Divide: Inequality Online
Culture and information in the stratification order
The "Knowledge Gap" hypothesis
Dimensions of inequality online
Research agenda: Modeling digital inequality
V. Does Internet Use Matter?
Do technical skills enhance earnings?
Do technical skills enhance quality of worklife?
Does technology improve school performance?
Does technology reduce inequality in the sphere of consumption?
Does technology enhance political influence and communicaty engagement?
Effects of Internet use: research agenda
VI. Social Organization of Technological Inequality
Government policies and Internet adoption
The impact of business strategies
Institutional effects on digital inequality: a research agenda
VII. Conclusion

Report prepared for the Russell Sage Foundation. Authors are from Princeton University except for Hargittai, who teaches at Northwestern University. Support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation (grant IIS0086143) and the Markle Foundation is gratefully acknowledged, as is institutional support from the Princeton Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and Office of Population Research. This paper refelcts the impact on the first author's thinking of several helpful and provocative comments by participants at the Russell Sage Foundation Inequality project's Harvard meeting in Summer 2001.

Please note
This is a pre-print version of the book chapter in the "Social Inequality" edited by Katherine Neckerman. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.

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Last updated: June, 2004 Version 3.0 (online since July 24, 1995)