Digital inequalities 2.0: Legacy inequalities in the information age


  • Laura Robinson
  • Jeremy Schulz
  • Grant Blank
  • Massimo Ragnedda
  • Hiroshi Ono
  • Bernie Hogan
  • Gustavo S. Mesch
  • Shelia R. Cotten
  • Susan B. Kretchmer
  • Timothy M. Hale
  • Tomasz Drabowicz
  • Pu Yan
  • Barry Wellman
  • Molly-Gloria Harper
  • Anabel Quan-Haase
  • Hopeton S. Dunn
  • Antonio A. Casilli
  • Paola Tubaro
  • Rod Carvath
  • Wenhong Chen
  • Julie B. Wiest
  • Matías Dodel
  • Michael J. Stern
  • Christopher Ball
  • Kuo-Ting Huang
  • Aneka Khilnani



2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the “digital divide.” Although a quarter century has passed, legacy digital inequalities continue, and emergent digital inequalities are proliferating. Many of the initial schisms identified in 1995 are still relevant today. Twenty-five years later, foundational access inequalities continue to separate the digital haves and the digital have-nots within and across countries. In addition, even ubiquitous-access populations are riven with skill inequalities and differentiated usage. Indeed, legacy digital inequalities persist vis-à-vis economic class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, aging, disability, healthcare, education, rural residency, networks, and global geographies. At the same time, emergent forms of inequality now appear alongside legacy inequalities such that notions of digital inequalities must be continually expanded to become more nuanced. We capture the increasingly complex and interrelated nature of digital inequalities by introducing the concept of the “digital inequality stack.” The concept of the digital inequality stack encompasses access to connectivity networks, devices, and software, as well as collective access to network infrastructure. Other layers of the digital inequality stack include differentiated use and consumption, literacies and skills, production and programming, etc. When inequality exists at foundational layers of the digital inequality stack, this often translates into inequalities at higher levels. As we show across these many thematic foci, layers in the digital inequality stack may move in tandem with one another such that all layers of the digital inequality stack reinforce disadvantage.

Author Biographies

Laura Robinson

Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Santa Clara University

Jeremy Schulz

Researcher at the UC Berkeley Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and a Fellow at the Cambridge Institute

Grant Blank

Survey Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, both University of Oxford

Massimo Ragnedda

Senior Lecturer in Mass Communication at Northumbria University, Newcastle (U.K.)

Hiroshi Ono

Professor of Human Resources Management at Hitotsubashi University Business School and Affiliated Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University

Bernie Hogan

Senior Research Fellow at the OII and Research Associate at the Department of Sociology

Gustavo S. Mesch

Professor of Sociology and the Rector of the University of Haifa

Shelia R. Cotten

MSU Foundation Professor and the Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University

Susan B. Kretchmer

Co-Founder and President of the not-for-profit Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide

Timothy M. Hale

Medical sociologist at the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Tomasz Drabowicz

Chair of the Department of Sociology of Social Structure and Social Change in the Faculty of Economics and Sociology, University of Lodz

Pu Yan

Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Barry Wellman

Director of the NetLab Network and former S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto

Molly-Gloria Harper

Graduate student in the Ph.D. Sociology program at Western

Anabel Quan-Haase

Professor in the Department of Sociology and Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in Canada

Hopeton S. Dunn

Professor of Media and Communication in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Botswana and Senior Research Associate in the School of Communication, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Antonio A. Casilli

Professor of sociology at Telecom Paris, the telecommunication school of the Institut Polytechnique de Paris, and a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Institute on Innovation (i3)

Paola Tubaro

Associate Research Professor at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)

Rod Carvath

Associate professor in strategic communication in the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

Wenhong Chen

Associate professor of media studies and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin

Julie B. Wiest

Associate Professor of Sociology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Matías Dodel

Professor of Communication at Universidad Católica del Uruguay

Michael J. Stern

Professor and Department Chairperson in the Department of Media + Information at Michigan State University

Christopher Ball

Assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kuo-Ting Huang

Assistant professor of Emerging Media Design & Development in the Department of Journalism at Ball State University

Aneka Khilnani

Medical student at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.




How to Cite

Robinson, L., Schulz, J., Blank, G., Ragnedda, M., Ono, H., Hogan, B., … Khilnani, A. (2020). Digital inequalities 2.0: Legacy inequalities in the information age. First Monday, 25(7).