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In U.S., Smartphones Are Helping Minorities Leapfrog Over the Digital Divide

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, July 11 2011

There's more evidence of smartphone usage in the United States enabling a kind of "leapfrog effect" over the digital divide. According to a new report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American LIfe Project, 44 percent of African Americans and Hispanics say they own a smartphone, compared to just 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

That said, class and education levels are also strongly related to smartphone ownership, with just 22% of people making less than $30K/yr saying they own one, compared to about 40% of people between $30K-$75K, and nearly 60 percent of people making more than $75K. The younger you are, though, the more likely you use a smartphone--even among people making less than $30K a year, 39% of those who are 18-29 years old say the have one. Older seniors, by contrast, are less likely, and poorer older seniors especially unlikely, to own a smartphone.

The reason why I refer to a leapfrog effect is that compared to owning a PC and paying for home broadband, a smartphone with an internet-worthy data plan costs much less. And nearly nine in ten smartphone owners say they use their phone to access email or the internet, with almost eight in ten doing so daily. Blacks and Hispanics do these things at slightly higher rates than white smartphone owners, Pew found. While many smartphone owners also have a broadband connection at home, not all of them do (just 68%, Pew found). Among the quarter of smartphone owners who mostly or only go online using their phone, blacks and Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to do so (38% to 17%).

The Android platform is the favorite of minorities, the survey found, while whites (especially the more affluent ones) tend to favor iPhones and Blackberries.

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