digital equity + opportunity for all

Access to the Internet and digital devices is no longer a simple yes/no question. Whether families have consistent, quality connections and the capabilities to make the most of being connected is becoming just as important.

For lower-income U.S. families with children in school, being meaningfully connected is especially important to ensuring equal access to learning opportunities.

How do families make decisions about connectivity and respond to digital equity challenges? We decided to find out.

the research

We started by interviewing 336 low-income parents and children in grades K-8 in Arizona, California and Colorado about digital equity issues. That helped us identify the most important questions for our survey of 1,191 lower-income parents with K-8 children. Read our reports to find out more.

the findings

Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Low-Income Families reports findings from our nationally-representative telephone survey of 1,191 parents of children ages 6 to 13 with household incomes that fall below national median.

This is the first nationally representative survey on this important U.S. population. SSRS fielded the survey via landline and cell phone in English and Spanish between April 16 and June 29, 2015. The final report was released on February 3, 2016.

  • Almost all lower-income families with school age children are connected to the internet.

    More than nine in ten (94%) surveyed parents have some kind of Internet connection, including 90% of families living below the federal poverty line. But, more than half are “under connected” in some way. Fifty-two percent of parents with home Internet access say it is too slow, a quarter (26%) say too many people share the same computer, and one-fifth (20%) say their Internet was cut off in the last year due to non-payment.

  • Family members help each other learn about, and through, technology.

    Three-quarters (77%) of parents help their kids learn to use tech, and half (53%) of kids help their parents to do the same. When parents have less education and/or lower incomes, kids help more. One-third (32%) of parents in the lowest income group (<$25,000) say their child “often” helps them with tech, vs. 15% in the highest income group ($45-65,000). Similarly, 53% of siblings in the lowest income group learn with tech together, compared with 33% of siblings in the highest income group.

  • Mobile-only Internet access has more limited utility for families.

    Low- and moderate-income parents who only have Internet access via mobile phones are less likely to shop online (36% vs. 66% of those with home access), use online banking or bill-paying (49% vs 74%), apply for jobs or services online (42% vs. 56%), or follow local news online (70% vs. 82%). The same is true for their children, who are significantly less likely to look up information online about things they are interested in (35% vs. 52% with home access), or to use the internet daily (31% to 51%).

  • One-quarter (23%) of surveyed families are mobile-only.

    Among those families, almost one-third (29%) have hit their data limits in the past year, a quarter (24%) have had their phone service cut off in the past year due to non-payment, and one-fifth (21%) say too many people share the same device for them to have sufficient time with it.

  • Internet connectivity is crucial for children’s learning.

    Children from low- and moderate-income families with Internet access use it for educational purposes. Among children ages 6 to 13, 81% play educational games and look up information they’re interested in; among kids ages 10 to 13, 81% go online to do homework, 46% to collaborate with other students, and 40% to connect with teachers.

  • Subsidized broadband programs are not reaching their target audiences.

    Most families who do not have home computers or Internet access cannot afford it. But, discounted Internet programs are reaching very few. Only 6% of parents with incomes below 185% of poverty (a common eligibility level for discounted service) have ever signed up for low-cost Internet access.

the forum

On February 3, 2016, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Rutgers University led Digital Equity: Technology and Learning in the Lives of Lower-Income Families, a forum co-hosted by New America in Washington, D.C. The full day’s recording is available on the New America website.

the conversation

Use #digitalequity to share your thoughts about these issues on Twitter!

who we are

With generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this project brought together a talented team of researchers to collect and analyze the data, and to write up the findings. You can find out more about us, and our work, below.

get in touch

Questions? Comments? Thoughts on what we should focus on next? Send us a note!