The 'Digital Divide' Among Financially Disadvantaged Families in Australia

Jennifer McLaren, Gianni Zappala


Despite figures suggesting that Australia is a high consumer of information and communication technologies (ICT), it is well documented that the pattern of this consumption is not spread evenly across the population; a 'digital divide' exists. In general, research suggests that people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds have greater access to ICT compared to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A less well-researched area is the factors that may influence ICT access and usage within certain demographic and socioeconomic groups. This paper presents new data on the access and usage of ICT (computers and the Internet) by 3,404 households and 6,874 children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. Fifty-nine per cent of the sample had a home computer and just under one-third had the Internet connected at home. The most common location for accessing the Internet was at school. A striking finding was the strong association between the level of parental education and ICT access and use. Schools are important in closing or levelling the access gap, as most students use computers and the Internet at school. However, considering the importance of having home Internet access for children's educational performance, the fact that almost three-quarters of students in this study did not use the Internet at home is of concern, particularly given that almost half of a comparable Australian population have home Internet access. Finding ways to increase the home access of low-income families to the Internet should therefore remain a policy priority for all sectors aiming to bridge the digital divide. Policies aimed at bridging the digital divide should also ensure that programs provide appropriate parenting support and emphasise the educational importance of having home access to computers and the Internet.

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