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Digital Divide is Shrinking for America’s Hispanic Population, NTIA Data Show

October 28, 2019 by Rafi Goldberg, Amy Robinson, and Edward Carlson

Internet use among Hispanic Americans has continued to grow, according to NTIA data, narrowing a racial disparity that has existed since NTIA began tracking adoption through its Internet Use Surveys in 1998.

The proportion of Hispanic Americans using the Internet has risen from 61 percent in 2013 and 66 percent in 2015 to 72 percent in 2017, NTIA data show.

Although this is still less than the 80 percent of non-Hispanic Whites online in 2017, the gap has begun to narrow. Internet usage rates for Hispanics are now similar to African Americans, who have also experienced gains in Internet use in recent years (see Figure 1).

graphic: internet use by race or ethnicity

In a previous analysis of the challenges faced by Hispanic Americans, NTIA found that language barriers and immigration patterns were associated with lower rates of Internet use. But while immigrants continued to be less likely to go online than their U.S.-born peers in 2017, the differences appear to be shrinking. Internet use among non-U.S. citizens jumped by 11 percentage points between 2013 and 2017, from 62 percent to 73 percent, and adoption among naturalized citizens climbed from 68 percent to 75 percent during this period.

Lower Internet adoption rates among immigrants disappear by second generation

New NTIA analysis shows that persons born in the U.S. to immigrant parents were nearly as likely to use the Internet as those with two U.S.-born parents. While 74 percent of immigrants used the Internet in 2017, 77 percent of U.S.-born persons with at least one immigrant parent did so, compared with 78 percent of those born to two U.S.-born parents. The similarity in Internet usage rates between U.S.-born persons with immigrant parents and those with U.S.-born parents is consistent across age groups (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Internet Use by Age Group and Immigrant Generation
Percent of Americans Ages 3+, 2017

Age Group

Immigrant

U.S.-born, At least One Immigrant Parent

U.S.-born, Both Parents U.S.-born

3–14

66

68

69

15–24

83

85

85

25–44

80

87

87

45–64

75

83

81

65+

52

63

65

This phenomenon also holds true among the Hispanic population in particular. While 68 percent of Hispanic immigrants were Internet users in 2017, 74 percent of both U.S.-born Hispanics with immigrant parents and U.S.-born Hispanics with two U.S.-born parents went online. When using a statistical model to control for income, education, age, and other factors known to be associated with disparate levels of Internet use, we found that U.S.-born persons with at least one immigrant parent were actually somewhat more likely to use the Internet than both immigrants and U.S.-born persons with two U.S.-born parents. Specifically, children of immigrants were 3.8 percentage points more likely to use the Internet than their immigrant peers, while those with U.S.-born parents were 2.6 percentage points more likely to do so (see table).

Similar to our previous findings, race and ethnicity were still associated with different levels of Internet use even after controlling for a host of other factors. Hispanics were 5.3 percentage points less likely to use the Internet than their White counterparts, and African Americans and Asian Americans were 6.3 percentage points and 4.0 percentage points less likely to go online, respectively. This suggests that factors like immigrations patterns, as well as other demographics such as income, education, and population density, may help explain part but not all of the digital divide faced by Hispanics and others.

The survey, conducted as a supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), included over 123,000 people living in more than 52,000 households in 50 states and the District of Columbia. NTIA has sponsored the CPS Computer and Internet Use Supplement 14 times since 1994, using the results for its Digital Nation research and for data-driven policy analysis and development. With its large sample size and more than 50 questions about Internet usage, it is the most comprehensive national survey of how Americans connect to the Internet and what they do when they’re online.

Did you know that NTIA has been researching digital inclusion issues for 25 years? This is the 18th installment in a series analyzing the data from our Internet Use Surveys. Sign up for the Data Central mailing list to be among the first to learn about our future work.