The Pew Internet Project occasionally asks about communication technologies other than the internet, and a recent inquiry prompted me to assemble some data comparing internet use with cell phone use. Two interesting findings came from this exercise. First, the cell phone is more valuable to older Americans than the internet is. Second, there isn’t a race-based digital divide for cell phones, at least when focusing on African Americans.

First, let’s look broadly at the data. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Feb. 2004 survey of 2,201 adult Americans, 68% of all Americans age 18 & older were internet users. According to that same survey, 74% of adult internet users were cell phone users. Looking at the data another way, 51% of non-internet users have cell phones.

As to race, among African Americans, 57% said they were internet users in February 2004 compared with 70% of whites. For cell phones, there is basically no gap between whites and blacks. Fully 74% of white American adults have cell phones and 73% of African Americans (18 & older) said they were cell phone users.

Here are the detailed breakouts on internet and cell phone use by age:

Ages 65 and over:

  • 27% are internet users compared with
  • 46% who are cell phone users.

Ages 50-64:

  • 65% are internet users compared with
  • 75% who are cell phone users.

Ages 30-49:

  • 81% are internet users;
  • 82% are cell phone users.

Ages 18-29:

  • 83% are internet users;
  • 80% are cell phone users.

There are bound to be any number of reasons for these differences, but those that jump to mind have to do with cost-of-ownership and ease-of-use. Aside from the large outlay for a computer to connect to the internet, troubleshooting a balky cell phone is a lot easier than getting at the root of the problem with an internet connection.

What bears watching is internet adoption patterns among older Americans as cell phones makers increasingly integrate the internet’s features onto devices. As older Americans get a taste of mobile email or browse the Web on their cell phones, some may be inspired to get an internet connection at home.