Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Race and ethnicity, device usage, and connectivity

The digital divide has not materialized when it comes to technology access among Millennials.

The Media Insight Project’s 2014 report The Personal News Cycle found that, contrary to long-held assumptions about digital media access by people of color, the digital divide has not played out in the United States as many had anticipated. 1That study found no evidence to suggest that African Americans and Hispanics lag behind the rest of the population in terms of technology use. The current research finds the same result among Millennials. Nearly all Millennials across racial and ethnic groups use a smartphone, and half use a tablet. Just 1 percent of Millennials say they do not have mobile access to the internet through either a smartphone or a tablet.

As we saw among the general population in The Personal News Cycle, similar proportions of Hispanic (91 percent), African American (95 percent), and white (93 percent) Millennials age 18-34 say they use a smartphone.

Nor does tablet usage among Millennials vary by race or ethnicity.

Overall Whites African Americans Hispanics
Smartphone 94% 93% 95% 91%
Tablet 50% 51% 54% 46%
Cell phone without an Internet connection 10% 10% 11% 11%
None of these (mutually exclusive) 1% 0% 4% 1%

Data Source: Question: Do you use any of the following devices, or not? Please select all that apply: A smartphone, a cell phone that is only used for calls and/or text messaging but does not connect to the internet, a tablet, none of these.

Media Insight Project

Millennials across racial and ethnic groups spend similar amounts of time online and connected, but differ in terms of their online activities.

Fifty-one percent of Millennials say they are almost always or mostly online and connected, 10 percent say they are mostly or always offline, and 39 percent say their time is a mix of being online and being offline. This level of connectivity does not vary across racial and ethnic groups.

Almost always
or mostly online
Mostly or always offline 10%
A mix of being online
and being offline

Data Source: Question: How much of your time do you spend online and connected, and how much do you spend offline?

Media Insight Project

Again, when it comes to the news, the data do not reveal evidence of a digital divide. Yet significant differences emerge when it comes to the types of activities Millennials spend their time doing online.

When it comes to keeping up with what’s going on in the world or reading and watching news online, 64 percent of Millennials say they do this regularly, making it the fifth most commonly cited online activity. While more white Millennials than Hispanic Millennials say they keep up with what’s going on in the world (65 percent vs. 53 percent), keeping up with what’s going on in the world actually ranks higher among all activities in the survey for Hispanics than for whites (tied for third for Hispanics; fifth for whites). Sixty-six percent of African American Millennials say they regularly keep up with the news, ranking third of the nine activities probed.

In general, African American and Hispanic Millennials tend to regularly engage in fewer activities online than do white Millennials. Across all groups, for instance, more than 50 percent say they “regularly” engage in eight of the nine online activities the survey probed. Among white Millennials, that number includes all nine activities—from checking email and streaming music to playing games. The number of activities that at least half say they regularly do online drops to six of nine for African American Millennials and five of nine for Hispanic Millennials.

% All Millennials % Whites % African Americans % Hispanics
Checking and sending email 72% 78% 67% 61%
Keeping up with what friends are doing 71% 76% 59% 63%
Streaming music, TV, or movies 68% 71% 69% 53%
Researching topics of interest 65% 71% 59% 50%
Keeping up with news 64% 65% 66% 53%
Checking the weather, traffic, or public transportation 57% 62% 48% 48%
Finding information about events, movies, or restaurants 56% 62% 49% 49%
Shopping or researching projects 56% 58% 56% 48%
Playing games 45% 50% 41% 37%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following activities, if any, would you say you do regularly online? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

Checking and sending email is the most commonly cited online activity for Millennials overall, as 72 percent say they regularly do this. This differs for African American and Hispanic Millennials. Streaming music, TV, or movies is the most commonly cited online activity among African Americans, and keeping up with what their friends are doing is the most commonly cited online activity among Hispanics.

Other distinct differences in online activities emerge across racial and ethnic groups, particularly between whites and Hispanics. White Millennials are more likely than Hispanics to say they regularly research topics they’re interested in online or pursue hobbies (71 percent vs. 50 percent) and play games (50 percent vs. 37 percent). African Americans fall in the middle for each of these online activities (59 percent say they regularly research topics of interest and 41 percent say they regularly play games).

Overall, 71 percent of Millennials say they regularly keep up with what their friends are doing. White Millennials, however, are more likely than Hispanic and African American Millennials to say they regularly spend time online keeping up with their friends (76 percent vs. 63 percent vs. 59 percent, respectively). In addition, whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics to say they regularly stream music, TV, or movies (71 percent vs. 69 percent vs. 53 percent).

Similar proportions of whites, African Americans, and Hispanics regularly check and send email; shop or research products; check the weather, traffic, or public transportation; and find information about events, movies, and restaurants.

  1. The Media Insight Project. 2014. The Personal News Cycle.

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