The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Project and Internet Project combined forces to write an in-depth look at internet penetration across racial and ethnic categories in the U.S.: Latinos Online, 2006-2008.

A summary of the major findings:

From 2006 to 2008, internet use among Latino adults rose by 10 percentage points, from 54% to 64%.  In comparison, the rates for whites rose four percentage points, and the rates for blacks rose only two percentage points during that time period.  Though Latinos continue to lag behind whites, the gap in internet use has shrunk considerably.

For Latinos, the increase in internet use has been fueled in large part by increases in internet use among groups that have typically had very low rates of internet use.

  • While U.S.-born Latinos experienced a two percentage point increase in internet use from 75% in 2006 to 77% in 2008, foreign-born Latinos experienced a 12 percentage point increase during the same period, from 40% to 52%.
  • In 2006, 31% of Latinos lacking a high school degree reported ever going online; in 2008, this number was 41%.  In comparison, Latinos with higher levels of education experienced three to four percentage point increases in internet use.
  • Internet use among Latinos residing in households with annual incomes less than $30,000 increased 17 percentage points from 2006 to 2008.  For Latinos in households earning $30,000 to $49,999 annually, internet use increased two percentage points, and for Latinos in households earning $50,000 or more annually, there was no change in internet use.

Whereas Latinos gained markedly in overall internet use, the pattern of home internet access changed very little.  In 2006, 79% of Latinos who were online had internet access at home, while in 2008, this number was 81%.  White and black internet users show a similar leveling off.  In 2006, 92% of white internet users had a home connection, compared with 94% in 2008. In 2006, 84% of African American internet users had a home connection, compared with 87% in 2008.

While there was little increase in the likelihood of having a home connection among internet users from 2006 to 2008, rates of broadband connection increased dramatically for Hispanics, as well as for whites and blacks.  In 2006, 63% of Hispanics with home internet access had a broadband connection; in 2008 this number was 76%.  For whites, there was a 17 percentage point increase in broadband connection from 65% to 82%, and for blacks, the increase was from 63% in 2006 to 78% in 2008.

In order to maintain comparability across years, all results are based upon landline telephone surveys conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet & American Life Project from February to October 2006, and from August to December 2008.  During this same time period, there was a dramatic increase in the proportion of people living in households with only cell phones, and no landline telephones.

The rapid increase in cell-only populations, particularly for Latinos and African Americans, coupled with the fact that people in cell-only households tend to be slightly more likely to use other forms of technology than people who are reachable via landline telephone, suggests that if anything, the results shown here may underestimate increases in internet use, especially for Latinos and African Americans. For more on this topic, please see Pew Internet’s July 2009 report, Wireless Internet Use.

Despite the lack of cellphone interviews, the robust sample makes for a compelling story. The estimates used in the report are derived from a total of eight telephone surveys, three of which were conducted for the Pew Hispanic Center, and five of which were conducted for the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  All told, the Pew Hispanic Center surveys interviewed 7,554 adults, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys interviewed 13,687 adults. And while the data was collected at the end of 2008, our findings are within the margin of error for a September 2009 survey conducted in both Spanish and English.