Home Computer Access and Internet Use

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In 2011, almost six out of ten children ages three to 17 used the Internet at home (58 percent), nearly six times as many as in 1997 (11 percent).  Eighty-three percent had a computer at home, up from 15 percent in 1984.

Importance

Home access to computers and the Internet has expanded dramatically over the last two decades, and the ways children, youth, and adults use these tools are in rapid flux, as new technologies are developed.  For example, Internet-enabled devices now include not only computers, but televisions, electronic books, and other handheld devices such as music players and cell-phones.  Increasingly, the lines are blurred between computers and many other types of electronic media.

Young people are most likely to use a computer for social networking, playing games, and watching videos.  Ten percent report reading magazines or newspapers online.  Among older youth (in grades seven through twelve), more than half (55 percent) have looked up online health information.[1]

Research on the effects of home computer and Internet use on children is limited and often does not control for the presence of other potentially confounding factors. However, there is widespread concern that children may be exposed to sexually explicit, violent, and other age-inappropriate content on the Internet.  Research, while inconclusive about the impact of nonviolent sexually explicit material, has consistently demonstrated that exposure to violent material (both sexual in nature and not) is associated with desensitization to violence, increased hostility and imitation of violent behaviors, and greater anxiety and fear among children and youth.[2] In addition, time spent with a computer may take the place of time spent exercising or being active, and may put children at risk for obesity, and eye, wrist, and back problems.[3]There is little evidence that having a computer at home improves student’s academic performance, or narrows achievement gaps associated with race or socio-economic status. To the contrary, the available evidence suggests that widespread provision of home computers would have negative effects on academic achievement overall.[4]

Trends

69_fig1The proportion of children with home access to computers has increased steadily, from 15 percent in 1984, to 76 percent in 2003, to 83 percent in 2011.  In addition, the percentage of children who use the Internet at home rose from 11 percent in 1997, the first year for which such estimates are available, to 42 percent in 2003, and to 58 percent in 2011. (Figure 1)

According to a 2009 survey of eight- to eighteen-year-olds, 36 percent have a computer in their bedroom, and nearly as many (33 percent) have Internet access there. Youth spend nearly an hour-and-a-half (outside of schoolwork) with a computer each day, up from just over one hour in 2004.[5]

Differences by Race/ Hispanic Origin[6]

69_fig2White and Asian/Pacific Islander children are more likely to have access to a computer at home (91 and 93 percent, respectively, in 2011) than are black or Hispanic children (74 and 69 percent, respectively). White and Asian/Pacific Islander children are also more likely to use the Internet at home (64 and 63 percent, respectively) than are black or Hispanic children (49 and 44 percent, respectively).  (Figure 2)

 

Differences by Household Income Level

69_fig3In 2011, children’s access to computers at home and their home Internet use was positively related to household income.  At that time, 58 percent of children in households with incomes of less than $15,000 had access to a computer at home, compared with 97 percent of children in households with incomes of $75,000 or more. (Figure 3) Children’s Internet use at home followed a similar pattern, ranging from 35 to 71 percent. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Parental Education

69_fig4There is a strong gradient by parents’ education attainment in children’s home access to computers, and particularly in their Internet access.  In 2011, 58 percent of children in homes where the householder did not have a high school education had access to a home computer, a significantly lower proportion than found in homes where the householder had a high school diploma (77 percent), had some college education (88 percent), or had a college degree or higher (97 percent).  Internet access was reported by significantly fewer children with the least-educated householders (36 and 51 percent, respectively) than by those with parents in the two higher education groups (62 and 69 percent, respectively).  (Figure 4)

Differences by Age

Home internet usage rises with increasing age.  Twenty-eight percent of children ages three to five years use the Internet at home, compared with 54 percent of six- to eleven-year-olds and 78 percent of twelve- to 17-year-olds.  (Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

2011 state estimates for households with internet access at home are available from the US Census Bureau: Table 2.

2003 state estimates for households with a computer at home are also  available from the US Census Bureau: Table 1b.

International Estimates

The World Economic Forum has issued a report which includes 2012 country-level data on the percentage of households with a personal computer and access to the internet. (page 362)

National Goals

None.

Related Indicators

Definition

Children who have access to a computer at home are defined as those living in a household with at least one computer.  Some year-to-year changes in the data may be a result of changes in question wording.  Between 1984 and 1997, this was any household that responded yes to the question: “Is there a computer in this household?”.  In 2000, the question was changed to: “Is there a personal computer or laptop in this household?”. In 2001 and 2003, the question was “Is there a computer or laptop in this household?.  In 2010, the question was: “At home, do you or any member of this household own or use a desktop, laptop, netbook or notebook computer?”.  In 2011, the question was: “How many desktop, laptop, netbook, notebook, and tablet computers are there in use in this household?”. Children and youth who use the Internet at home are defined as those who answered yes to whether they access the Internet at home; question wording has changed slightly since 1997.

Data Sources

Data for 2010-2011: Child Trends' original analysis of the Current Population Survey.

Income data for 2003: Day, J. C., Janus, A., and Davis, J.  (2005). Computer and Internet use in the United States: 2003.  U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p23-208.pdf.

All other data for 2003: Child Trends calculations using data from U.S. Census. Computer and Internet use in the United States: October 2003.  Tables 2A and 4A.  http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/2003.html

Data for income 2001:  U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. (2002). A nation online: How Americans are expanding their use of the Internet.  Table 5-1. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/dn/index.html

All other data for 2001: U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). Computer and Internet use in the United States. Table 2A and 4A. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/2001.html

Data for 2000: Newburger, E. C. (2001). Home computers and Internet use in the United States: Special studies.   Current Population Reports, P23-207, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Table B. http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p23-207.pdf

Data for 1997: Newburger, E. C. (1999). Computer use in the United States: 1997, population characteristics.  Current Population Reports, P20-522, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Detailed table 2. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/1997.html

Data for 1993: U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.  (1993). Computer use in the United States: October 1993. Table C. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/1993.html

Data for 1989: Kominski, R. (1991). Computer use in the United States: 1989. Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 171, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Detailed table 2. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/1989.html

Data for 1984: Kominski, R. (1988).  Computer use in the United States: 1984. Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 155, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau. Detailed table 2. http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/1984.html

Raw Data Source

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey

http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/

 

Appendix 1 - Percentage of Children Ages 3 to 17 Who Have Access to Computers at Home1, Selected Years, 1984-2011

1984 1989 1993 1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Total 15.3 24.2 31.9 49.7 65.0 70.4 75.5 82.9 83.2
Gender
Male 16.8 25.2 31.5 50.1 65.3 70.0 75.2 82.6 83.2
Female 13.6 23.1 32.4 49.3 64.8 70.9 75.9 83.3 83.3
Age
3 to 5 years 10.8 16.8 10.9 40.6 58.0 62.9 70.2 78.7 79.2
6 to 11 years 15.3 22.1 23.3 49.1 64.1 - - 82.4 82.7
12 to 17 years

 

16.8

 

27.7

 

28.0

 

55.1

 

69.5

 

-

 

-

 

85.7

 

86.0

 

3 to 5 years 10.8 16.8 10.9 40.6 58.0 62.9 70.2 78.7 79.2
6 to 9 years 14.3 20.7 21.9 47.0 - 67.8 73.3 81.6 82.1
10 to 14 years 17.6 26.6 27.6 54.7 - 73.3 78.0 84.9 84.7
15 to 17 years 15.7 27.7 27.4 54.7 - 76.1 79.2 85.9 86.6
Race and Hispanic Origin
White 17.1 26.7 35.8 - 69.7 75.3 79.6 85.1 84.7
White, non-Hispanic - - - 61.5 77.3 82.8 86.5 90.5 91.0
Black1 6.1 10.6 13.0 24.2 42.5 45.5 54.0 70.6 74.1
Hispanic 4.6 9.6 12.1 23.0 37.1 46.7 54.9 71.4 69.2
Asian and Pacific Islander - - - 71.9 81.3 - 91.8 93.5
Asian - - - - - - 83.7 93.2 94.3
1984 1989 1993 1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Householder's Education
Less than high school diploma 4.2 6.4 7.6 15.2 30.1 37.8 46.6 57.2 57.5
High school diploma/GED 12.0 16.6 20.7 40.1 55.8 64.2 68.4 77.3 76.9
Some college 20.5 30.6 37.4 57.1 74.8 77.2 81.9 88.5 88.3
Bachelor's degree or more 30.4 48.6 62.7 80.0 89.9 92.1 93.5 95.7 96.7
Family Structure
Family households - - - - 65.2 70.6 75.7 83.1 83.3
Married-couple household 17.8 28.3 38.3 59.0 73.6 78.8 82.3 88.4 88.5
Male householder 8.9 19.2 23.2 33.4 48.8 57.4 64.2 75.8 76.5
Female householder 7.2 11.0 13.9 25.3 43.0 48.7 58.0 70.0 71.7
Nonfamily household - - - - 50.0 54.9 61.7 68.9 74.7
Household Income
Under $25,000 7.2 11.4 11.6 20.0 32.9 40.0 47.2 60.9 62.2
Under $15,000 4.6 6.8 7.6 15.6 27.3 33.3 42.8 54.2 57.9
$15,000-19,999 9.3 14.5 16.2 21.3 36.0 - 49.2 69.3 66.2
$20,000-24,999 13.0 22.0 19.0 31.0 41.9 - - 70.1 69.3
$25,000-$49,999 22.7 31.0 32.9 51.4 63.5 68.7 74.3 82.3 79.2
$25,000-34,999 19.4 26.2 27.4 43.0 53.9 59.7 - 78.2 74.1
$35,000-49,999 27.8 38.0 37.5 58.1 71.4 75.7 - 86.0 83.4
$50,000-74,999 - 47.9 55.8 72.4 82.6 86.9 88.1 90.9 93.5
$75,000+ - 62.8 75.2 88.4 93.2 94.9 95.6 95.9 97.1
1984 1989 1993 1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Region
Northeast 19.3 30.4 35.3 54.0 70.2 75.4 81.8 87.6 89.0
Midwest 15.9 24.0 32.5 53.7 68.6 74.3 77.6 82.9 86.3
South 12.3 20.6 26.9 43.6 60.9 65.4 71.4 80.3 79.5
West 15.8 25.1 36.1 51.2 63.6 70.1 75.5 83.9 82.5
Metropolitan Status
Metropolitan - - - - 65.9 - - 83.5 84.1
Inside central city - - - - 53.4 - - 78.1 78.7
Outside central city - - - - 72.8 - - 86.9 87.1
Nonmetropolitan - - - - 61.1 - - 80.1 78.3
1 Wording of the question has changed slightly over time, and some year-to-year changes may be a result of changes in question wording. Between 1984 and 1997, the question was: “Is there a computer in this household?”.  In 2000, the question was changed to: “Is there a personal computer or laptop in this household?”. In 2001 and 2003, the question was “Is there a computer or laptop in this household?”.  In 2010, the question was: “At home, do you or any member of this household own or use a desktop, laptop, netbook or notebook computer?”.  In 2011, the question was: “How many desktop, laptop, netbook, notebook, and tablet computers are there in use in this household?”.

2Estimates for 1997 are for non-Hispanic blacks only.

Source: Data for 1984: Kominski, R. (1998). Computer use in the United States: 1984: Bureau of the Census. Data for 1989: Kominski, R. (1989). Computer use in the United States: 1989: Bureau of the Census. Data for 1993: Education and Social Stratification Branch. (1993). Use of computers at home and school by persons 3 to 17 years old: October 1993. Suitland, MD: Bureau of the Census. Data for 1997: Newburger, E. C. (1997) Computer use in the United States: 1997: Bureau of the Census.  Data for 2000: Newburger, E. C. (2000) Computer use in the United States: Special studies: Bureau of the Census. Income data for 2001: Bureau of the Census. (2002). A nation online: how Americans are expanding their use of the Internet: Bureau of the Census. All other data for 2001: Child Trends calculations using data from U.S. Census. Computer and Internet Use in the United States, 2001: Tables 2A and 4A.   Income data for 2003: Day, J. C., Janus, A., and Davis, J. (2005) Computer and internet use in the United States: 2003: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports. Available at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p23-208.pdf.  All other data for 2003: Child Trends calculations using data from U.S. Census. "Computer and Internet Use in the United States: October 2003." Tables 2A and 4A.  available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/computer/2003.html. Data for 2010-2011: Child Trends' original analysis of the Current Population Survey.

Appendix 2 - Percentage of Children Ages 3 to 17 Who Use the Internet at Home, Selected Years, 1997-2011

1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Total 10.8 30.4 41.1 42.0 56.7 57.5
Gender
Male 11.2 30.2 41.0 41.1 56.1 56.7
Female 10.4 30.6 41.1 43.0 57.4 58.4
Age
3 to 5 years 0.8 7.3 13.4 15.1 23.1 27.8
6 to 11 years 8.1 24.7 - - 55.0 54.2
12 to 17 years 18.7 47.9 - - 75.8 77.8
3 to 5 years 0.8 7.3 13.4 15.1 23.1 27.8
6 to 9 years 5.5 - 30.6 30.0 49.9 49.1
10 to 14 years 15.8 - 52.0 52.7 69.9 68.9
15 to 17 years 20.0 - 62.8 64.7 78.5 83.6
Race and Hispanic Origin
White - 33.6 44.2 45.7 58.8 58.8
White, non-Hispanic 14.2 38.4 50.5 51.6 65.0 64.3
Black1 3.0 14.7 24.4 24.8 45.2 48.9
Hispanic 3.8 12.8 20.3 24.1 42.6 44.3
Asian and Pacific Islander - 35.2 51.5 - 63.7 62.9
Asian2 - - - 43.8 64.5 64.2
1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Householder's Education
Less than high school diploma 1.9 11.1 17.2 19.9 32.9 36.0
High school diploma/GED 6.1 24.3 35.3 35.6 50.6 51.0
Some college 11.5 34.9 45.5 46.3 61.0 61.5
Bachelor's degree or more 23.2 46.6 59.1 57.3 70.3 69.1
Family Structure
Family households - 30.5 41.2 42.1 56.8 57.6
Married-couple household 13.1 35.1 46.6 46.4 61.6 61.2
Male householder 7.5 23.9 33.4 35.1 50.0 52.0
Female householder 4.5 17.8 26.7 30.4 45.0 49.3
Nonfamily household - 24.8 31.6 33.6 46.6 49.0
Household Income
Under $25,000 2.4 10.7 17.5 19.2 34.7 38.7
Under $15,000 1.7 7.7 14.3 16.5 30.1 35.4
$15,000-19,999 3.3 12.9 - 19.9 41.8 43.1
$20,000-24,999 3.7 15.2 - - 40.1 42.6
$25,000-$49,999 8.0 26.9 36.5 37.6 52.7 51.9
$25,000-34,999 6.2 21.0 28.9 - 47.0 48.9
$35,000-49,999 9.5 31.8 42.4 - 57.8 54.4
$50,000-74,999 17.8 39.9 52.1 50.8 63.1 64.4
$75,000+ 27.3 51.7 63.4 63.4 73.0 71.3
1997 2000 2001 2003 2010 2011
Region
Northeast 13.3 35.5 47.2 49.2 61.7 61.4
Midwest 10.3 32.1 43.5 44.8 58.3 61.6
South 9.2 27.6 38.7 38.7 53.8 54.1
West 11.7 29.0 37.5 38.9 56.5 56.5
Metropolitan Status
Metropolitan - 30.8 - - 57.7 58.4
Inside central city - 23.7 - - 51.0 53.1
Outside central city - 34.7 - - 61.9 61.2
Nonmetropolitan - 28.7 - - 51.3 52.2
1Estimates for 1997 are for non-Hispanic blacks only.

Source: Data for 1997: Newburger, E. C. (1997) Computer use in the United States: 1997: Bureau of the Census. Data for 2000: Newburger, E. C. (2000) Computer use in the United States: Special studies: Bureau of the Census. Income data for 2001: Bureau of the Census. (2002). A nation online: how Americans are expanding their use of the Internet: Bureau of the Census. All other data for 2001: Child Trends calculations using data from U.S. Census. Computer and Internet Use in the United States, 2001: Tables 2A and 4A. Income data for 2003: Day, J. C., Janus, A., and Davis, J. (2005) Computer and internet use in the United States: 2003: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports. Available at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p23-208.pdf. All other data for 2003: Child Trends calculations using data from U.S. Census. "Computer and Internet Use in the United States: October 2003." Tables 2A and 4A. available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/computer/2003.html. Data for 2010-2011: Child Trends' original analysis of the Current Population Survey.

Endnotes


[1]Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., and Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation. Available at http://kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf

[2]National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2001). Non-technical strategies to reduce children's exposure to inappropriate material on the Internet: Summary of a Workshop. Board on Children, Youth, and Families and Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. Joah G. Iannotta, ed. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. http://www.nap.edu/books/0309075912/html/

[3]Shields, M. K., and Behrman, R. E. (Fall/Winter 2000). Children and computer technology: Analysis and recommendations.The Future of Children, 10(2): 4-30. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1602687

[4]See, for example, Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., and Vigdor, J. L. (2008). Scaling the digital divide: Home computer technology and student achievement. Durham, NC: Duke University. Available at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/events/colloquia/Vigdor_ScalingtheDigitalDivide.pdf

[5]Rideout, V. J. et al., op. cit.

[6]Hispanics may be any race, though whites refer to non-Hispanic whites only.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends. (2012). Home computer access and internet use. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=home-computer-access

 

Last updated: August 2013