Research Article: A socioeconomic related ‘digital divide’ exists in how, not if, young people use computers

Date Published: March 31, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Courtenay Harris, Leon Straker, Clare Pollock, Stefano Federici.


Government initiatives have tried to ensure uniform computer access for young people; however a divide related to socioeconomic status (SES) may still exist in the nature of information technology (IT) use. This study aimed to investigate this relationship in 1,351 Western Australian children between 6 and 17 years of age. All participants had computer access at school and 98.9% at home. Neighbourhood SES was related to computer use, IT activities, playing musical instruments, and participating in vigorous physical activity. Participants from higher SES neighbourhoods were more exposed to school computers, reading, playing musical instruments, and vigorous physical activity. Participants from lower SES neighbourhoods were more exposed to TV, electronic games, mobile phones, and non-academic computer activities at home. These patterns may impact future economic, academic, and health outcomes. Better insight into neighbourhood SES influences will assist in understanding and managing the impact of computer use on young people’s health and development.

Partial Text

Information technology (IT) is becoming an increasingly important part of young people’s daily lives across both school and home environments [1]. To illustrate, in 2011 in Australia the internet was used by 79% of school-aged children; with 92% of these children accessing from home and 86% from school [2]. In addition to IT being used by most young people, the use of IT by young people has been linked with academic [3–4] and health outcomes [5–6].

Given recent changes in the way digital technology divides are conceptualised, the purpose of this study was to explore whether inequalities in the nature of IT use still exist in an Australian sample with near universal access to IT. As predicted, this study demonstrated that young people’s access to computers at home and school was high across all neighbourhoods. Despite comparable computer access, there was still an association between neighbourhood and how the young people in this study used IT. The associations with how IT was being used indicate that the ‘digital divide’ does indeed extend beyond simple access. These findings add to the current literature which suggests the assumption that young people will be ‘digital natives’ and uniformly use the technology available to them is not valid [17, 26].




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