Digital Inequality: Differences in Young Adults' Use of the Internet

Authors: Eszter Hargittai and Amanda Hinnant

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Citation: Hargittai, E. & Hinnant, A. (2008). Digital Inequality: Differences in Young Adults' Use of the Internet. Communication Research. 35(5):602-621.


This article expands understanding of the digital divide to more nuanced measures of use by examining differences in young adults' online activities. Young adults are the most highly connected age group, but that does not mean that their Internet uses are homogenous. Analyzing data about the Web uses of 270 adults from across the United States, the article explores the differences in 18- to 26-year-olds' online activities and what social factors explain the variation. Findings suggest that those with higher levels of education and of a more resource-rich background use the Web for more "capital enhancing" activities. Detailed analyses of user attributes also reveal that online skill is an important mediating factor in the types of activities people pursue online. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for a "second-level digital divide," that is, differences among the population of young adult Internet users.


  • Introduction
  • Age and Internet Use
  • Importance of Skill
  • Refined Studies of Internet Use
  • Hypotheses
    • Hypotheses Regarding Skill
    • Hypotheses Regarding Visits to Capital-Enhancing Web Sites
  • Method
    • Design and Procedure
    • Sample
    • Measures: Independent Variables
    • Measures: Dependent Variables
    • Method of Analysis
  • Results
    • Explaining Differences in Self-Perceived Knowledge
    • Explaining Different Levels of Capital-Enhancing Online Behavior
  • Conclusion


The authors thank the reviewers and editor for comments from which the article greatly benefited. The authors are also indebted to Paul DiMaggio, Edward Freeland, and Peter Miller for their helpful input. Support from the Markle Foundation is kindly acknowledged.

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