The Internet now plays such a large role in daily life that it's difficult to imagine many people getting by without it. This is especially true in advanced economies where banking, shopping, communicating, and viewing culture and entertainment are all facilitated with a connection to the Web.

Yet 15 percent of Americans still do not use the Internet, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center. That's the same level as three years ago despite government and community efforts encouraging people to get online.

internet use

Perhaps it's more surprising, however, how much Internet use has grown in American in the last 15 years. In the year 2000, says Pew, an astounding 48 percent of Americans still were not using the Internet. Today, rates of non-Internet use have fallen by one-half and two-thirds among the elderly and those without a high school diploma, respectively.

The increase in Internet use is due in large part to the proliferation of smartphones, which have become the primary means for many people in disadvantaged populations to go online. But that access isn't sufficient and limits the amount a single user can achieve online.

internet use stats

Yet the elderly and the poor, as well as people living in rural areas, are the least likely to be using the Internet today.

  • About four in 10 adults ages 65 and older (39 percent) do not use the Internet, compared with only 3 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. 
  • A third of adults with less than a high school education do not use the Internet, but that share falls as the level of educational attainment increases. 
  • Adults from households earning less than $30,000 a year are roughly eight times more likely than the most affluent adults to not use the Internet.
  • Rural Americans are about twice as likely as those who live in urban or suburban settings to never use the Internet.

That a digital divide exists along lines of age, income, and education is real cause for concern precisely because Internet access has become so commonplace and is so easily taken for granted. Those without easy Internet access risk being forgotten as new technology charges forward that the rest of the population is eager to adopt.

The extent to which people cannot benefit from the services the Internet provides is certainly an argument in favor of the FCC's recent decision to legally treat online connectivity as a public utility. No word yet, however, on when it will protect your Internet bill from getting shut off.

Stock photo © rudisill