Understanding Processes of Digital Inequality in Australian Society

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Jonathan SMITH, Monash University, Australia
The concept of ‘digital inequality’ emphasises the potential for differences in individuals’ internet access, skills, and usage practices to factor in the broader reproduction of social inequalities. Despite growing recognition of its significance, digital inequality has proven difficult to accurately and reliably measure. This has been in part due to the challenge of how to quantify the tangible outcomes of internet use in people’s lives, as well as a lack of appropriate longitudinal data with which to explore changes in these outcomes over time. To address this, this project assessed digital inequality using a multidimensional index (the Digital Disruption Index) indicating how affected respondents would be if they were unable to use the internet in a range of life domains. The DDI was cross-validated with a representative general population from the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (n=1,238) and a large Australian youth cohort from the longitudinal Our Lives study (n=2,090) which has been regularly surveyed between 2006 (age 12/13) and 2017 (age 23/24). Results indicate that being male, having less post-schooling education, and living rurally, are factors which consistently narrow the degree to which internet use is embedded in the lives of members of both samples. Further longitudinal analyses with the youth cohort show that late adoption of broadband, particularly in rural areas, has a long-term negative association with young people’s digital embeddedness, even after controlling for their access and skill levels a decade later. These findings suggest that digital inequalities have complex and enduring consequences for both older and younger generations of Australians.