Declining Majority of Online adults say the internet has been good for society

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FOR RELEASE APRIL 30, 2018
BY Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead
FOR MEDIA OR OTHER INQUIRIES:
Aaron Smith, Associate Director, Research
Tom Caiazza, Communications Manager
202.419.4372
www.pewresearch.org
RECOMMENDED CITATION
Pew Research Center, April 2018, “Declining Majority of
Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good for Society”
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
www.pewresearch.org
About Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. The Center studies U.S. politics and policy; journalism and media; internet, science and technology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes and trends; and U.S. social and demographic trends. All of the Center’s reports are available at www.pewresearch.org. Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder.
© Pew Research Center 2018
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has
Been Good for Society
Americans tend to view the impact of the
internet and other digital technologies on their
own lives in largely positive ways, Pew Research
Center surveys have shown over the years. A
survey of U.S. adults conducted in January
2018 finds continuing evidence of this trend,
with the vast majority of internet users (88%)
saying the internet has, on balance, been a
mostly good thing for them personally.
But even as they view the internet’s personal
impact in a positive light, Americans have
grown somewhat more ambivalent about the
impact of digital connectivity on society as a
whole. A sizable majority of online adults (70%)
continue to believe the internet has been a good
thing for society. Yet the share of online adults
saying this has declined by a modest but still
significant 6 percentage points since early 2014,
when the Center first asked the question. This is
balanced by a corresponding increase (from 8%
to 14%) in the share of online adults who say
the internet’s societal impact is a mix of good
and bad. Meanwhile, the share saying the
internet has been a mostly bad thing for society
is largely unchanged over that time: 15% said
this in 2014, and 14% say so today.
This shift in opinion regarding the ultimate social impact of the internet is particularly stark
among older Americans, despite the fact that older adults have been especially rapid adopters of
consumer technologies such as social media and smartphones in recent years. Today 64% of online
adults ages 65 and older say the internet has been a mostly good thing for society. That represents
Growing share of online adults say the
internet has been a mixed blessing for
society
% of online U.S. adults who say the following …
Source: Survey conducted Jan. 3-10, 2018.
“Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good
for Society”
PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
www.pewresearch.org
a 14-point decline from the 78% who said this in 2014. The attitudes of younger adults have remained more consistent over that time: 74% of internet users ages 18 to 29 say the internet has been mostly good for society, comparable to the 79% who said so in 2014.
As was true in our 2014 survey, college graduates are more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to say the internet has had a positive impact on society (and less likely to say it has had a negative impact). Among online adults with a college degree, 81% say the impact of the internet on society has been mostly good and just 7% say it has been mostly bad. By contrast, 65% of those with a high school diploma or less say the internet has had a mostly good impact on society, and 17% say its impact has been mostly bad.
Positive views of the internet are often tied to information access and connecting with others; negative views are based on a wider range of issues
Those who think the internet has had a good impact on society tended to focus on two key issues, according to follow-up items which allowed respondents to explain their views in their own words. Most (62% of those with a positive view) mentioned how the internet makes information much easier and faster to access. Meanwhile, 23% of this group mentioned the ability to connect with other people, or the ways in which the internet helps them keep more closely in touch with friends and family.
By contrast, those who think the internet is a bad thing for society gave a wider range of reasons for their opinions, with no single issue standing out. The most common theme (mentioned by 25% of these respondents) was that the internet isolates people from each other or encourages them to spend too much time with their devices. These responses also included references to the spread and prevalence of fake news or other types of false information: 16% mentioned this issue. Some 14% of those who think the internet’s impact is negative cited specific concerns about its effect on children, while 13% argued that it encourages illegal activity. A small share (5%) expressed privacy concerns or worries about sensitive personal information being available online.
One-in-five Americans are now ‘smartphone only’ internet users at home
These attitudinal changes are occurring in a broader landscape in which the access options available to ordinary Americans are shifting dramatically. Most notably, fully one-in-five Americans (20%) are now “smartphone only” internet users at home – that is, they own a smartphone but do not subscribe to traditional broadband service where they live. This represents a 7-point increase compared with data from 2015, when 13% of Americans were smartphone-only
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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users. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they subscribe to traditional broadband service at home, similar to the 67% who said this in July 2015.1
As has consistently been true in past surveys conducted by the Center, those who rely on their smartphones for home internet service are disproportionately less likely to have attended college compared with those with traditional broadband service. They also report living in lower-income households. For instance, 31% of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30,000 are smartphone-only internet users, more than three times the share among those living in households earning $75,000 or more per year (9%). This phenomenon is also notably more prevalent among blacks and Hispanics than among whites.
Conversely, relatively well-educated and financially well-off Americans are substantially more likely to say they do have a traditional broadband connection at home. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans in households earning $75,000 or more per year say they subscribe to home broadband service, nearly double the rate among those earning less than $30,000 per year (45% of whom have broadband service at home).
1 The Center has used several different question wordings to identify broadband users in recent years. Our survey conducted in July 2015 used a directly comparable question wording to the one used in this survey.
One-in-five Americans own a smartphone, but do not have traditional broadband service
% of U.S. adults who indicate that they have …
Broadband at home
Smartphone, no broadband
No broadband, no smartphone
Total
65%
20%
15%
Ages 18-29
67
28
5
30-49
70
24
7
50-64
68
16
17
65+
50
10
40
White
72
14
14
Black
57
24
19
Hispanic
47
35
18
HS or less
48
26
25
Some college
68
21
12
College+
85
10
5
<$30,000
45
31
23
$30,000-$74,999
72
18
9
$75,000+
87
9
3
Urban
67
22
12
Suburban
70
17
13
Rural
58
17
25
Note: Whites and blacks include only non-Hispanics. Source: Survey conducted Jan. 3-10, 2018. “Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good for Society”
PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
www.pewresearch.org
Beyond this growing reliance on smartphones for home internet service in lieu of traditional broadband service, it is also notable that 15% of Americans indicate that they have neither broadband service at home nor a smartphone. A large share of this group is not online at all: 11% of Americans indicate that they do not use the internet or email from any location. In other cases, the share without home broadband or a smartphone represents Americans who go online using other means.
And as was the case with smartphone-only internet usage, those who lack both broadband service and a smartphone are disproportionately likely to be from certain segments of the population. Most notably, 40% of Americans ages 65 and older fall into this category. But this is also true for substantial minorities of rural residents (25%), those who have not attended college (25%) and those from households earning less than $30,000 per year (23%).
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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Acknowledgments
This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals. Find related reports online at pewresearch.org/internet.
Research team
Aaron Smith, Associate Director, Research
Kenneth Olmstead, Research Associate
Lee Rainie, Director, Internet and Technology Research
Andrew Perrin, Research Analyst
Editorial and graphic design
Margaret Porteus, Information Graphics Designer
David Kent, Copy Editor
Communications and web publishing
Tom Caiazza, Communications Manager
Shannon Greenwood, Associate Digital Producer
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
www.pewresearch.org
Methodology
The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 3-10, 2018, among a national sample of 2,002 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,502 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 1,071 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers under the direction of Abt Associates. A combination of landline and cellphone random-digit-dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see: http://www.pewresearch.org/methodology/u-s-survey-research/
The combined landline and cellphone sample is weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2016 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey one-year estimates and population density to parameters from the bureau’s decennial census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status (landline only, cellphone only, or both landline and cellphone), based on extrapolations from the 2016 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and mobile phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. The margins of error reported and statistical tests of significance are adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, a measure of how much efficiency is lost from the weighting procedures.
The following table shows the unweighted sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:
Group
Unweighted sample size
Plus or minus …
Total sample
2,002
2.4 percentage points
Ages 18-29
352
5.8
30-49
528
4.7
50-64
544
4.7
65+
529
4.7
Total internet users
1,785
2.6
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PEW RESEARCH CENTER
www.pewresearch.org
Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
Pew Research Center undertakes all polling activity, including calls to mobile telephone numbers, in compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and other applicable laws.
Pew Research Center is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization and a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder.

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