Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use

Authors: Paul DiMaggio, Eszter Hargittai, Coral Celeste, and Steven Shafer

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Citation: DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C. & Shafer, S. (2004). Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use. In Social Inequality. Edited by Kathryn Neckerman. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 355-400.


This paper reviews what we know about inequality in access to and use of new digital technologies. Until recently, most research has focused on inequality in access (the “digital divide”), measured in a variety of ways. We agree that inequality of access is important, because it is likely to reinforce inequality in opportunities for economic mobility and social participation. At the same time we argue that a more thorough understanding of digital inequality requires placing Internet access in a broader theoretical context, and asking a wider range of questions about the impact of information technologies and informational goods on social inequality. In particular, five key issues around which we structure this paper.

(1) The digital divide. Who has access to the Internet, who does not have access, and how has this changed
(2) Is access to and use of the Internet more or less unequal than access to and use of other forms of information technology
(3) Inequality among persons with access to the Internet.
(4) Does access to and use of the Internet affect people’s life chances
(5) How might the changing technology, regulatory environment and industrial organization of the Internet render obsolete the findings reported hear


  • From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use: A Literature Review and Agenda for Research on the Digital Inequality
  • The Digital Divide
  • How Does Online Inequality Compare to Inequality in the Use of Other Media
  • Beyond the Digital Divide: Inequality Online
  • Does Internet Use Matter
  • Social Organization of Technological Inequality
  • Conclusion


Support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation (grant IIS0086143) and the Markle Foundation is gratefully aknowledged, as is institutional support from the Princeton Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and Office of Population Research.

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