The Internet as the first option for important information

Expectations about finding information online are one thing, but trusting the Internet to produce what you want during you next important information search is another.  For government and health care information, we asked all Americans to anticipate the next time they may need information in these areas.  We then asked them: Where would you turn for information?  For health care information, 31% of all Americans said they would first turn to the Internet.  For government information, 39% of all Americans said they would first turn to the Net.  About one in five (21%) Americans revealed themselves to be very heavily reliant on the Internet for carrying out tasks.  These people answered the “Internet” when asked if they would turn to the Net for health care information and government information next time they do such searches. 

Demographically, those who say they would turn next to the Internet for both government and health care information tend to be women (driven by the fact that 58% of those who say they would turn first to the Net for health care information), people who have children under age 18 in the household (47% do versus 35% of all Americans), and those who are white.  Those who are most likely do turn to the Internet first are among the Internet’s most experienced.  About three in eight (38%) of Internet users have been online for six or more years, but close to half (47%) of those who would first turn to the Net for government and health information have been online for six or more years.

There is a subset of non-Internet users—about 16%—who say they would turn to the Internet first for either health care information or information government about a government agency.  On its face, it may seem anomalous that any non-users turn first to the Net for information.  However, the Pew Internet Project’s March-May 2002 survey shows that about 17% people who identify themselves as non-Internet users once used the Internet on a regular basis.  Moreover, 20% of non-users say they live in a household in which another person uses the Internet in the same household.  It is possible that non-users in our September 2002 sample, because of past usage or proximity to a current user, know what the Internet has to offer. 

Relative to other non-Internet users, non-users who say they will turn to the Net next time they need government or health information are more likely to be women, people between the ages of 18 and 29, those who are employed, and those who are non-White.  Although we did not ask in September 2002 whether non-users used to use the Internet, our “turn to the Internet first” non-users in September 2002 have demographic characteristics similar to the “used to surf the Internet” non-users of March-May 2002.  In particular, both groups are more likely than other non-users to be young, non-White, and employed.