Many people enjoy nearly constant internet access. That availability could make them take the connectivity for granted, not realizing how numerous circumstances limit or prevent others from getting online very often—or at all. Researchers refer to this pervasive and complex problem as digital inequality or the digital divide.
In this article, you’ll find out what digital inequality is. You’ll also discover its consequences.
What Are the Three Types of Digital Inequality?
Digital inequality falls into three main categories: universal access, gender, and social. We go through each of them below.
1. The Universal Access Divide
This type encompasses the many reasons dictating why some people can’t use the internet as easily as others due to a lack of access. For example, a person with a physical disability may find the technology they need to go online prohibitively expensive. Insufficient funds factor in for others trying to use the internet, too, such as if a smartphone or access is out of reach for their budgets.
Additionally, people with low levels of literacy may struggle with setting up an internet router or searching for an affordable provider.
A lack of infrastructure also poses obstacles. Many areas of the world still don’t have the necessary foundations for fast, trouble-free connectivity.
2. The Social Divide
The social divide aspect of digital inequality relates to how people without internet access often find it challenging to make the kinds of interpersonal connections that are so abundantly available online. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook help people stay in touch, or find others with shared interests, though they may struggle with both of these where they live.
The internet also helps people find jobs or network with colleagues. After individuals receive new health diagnoses, online forums link them with others living with the same or similar conditions. Going online does not solve all social isolation, of course. However, it can broaden opportunities to socialize—especially for people living in small towns or rural areas.
3. The Gender Divide
Being female makes a person more likely to experience digital inequality, studies show. Research published in 2020 indicated more than 300 million fewer women in lower and middle-income countries use the internet on their mobile phones than men. Plus, females in those nations are 20 percent less likely than males to own smartphones. Relatedly, women had less decision-making power concerning those purchases.
No single reason wholly explains this gender gap. In most cases, it likely happens due to numerous factors. For example, cultural norms in many countries dictate that women stay in their homes and do household tasks while males become the primary earners. That same trend often prevents females from getting an education, too. Some nations also expect also women to show continual submissive behavior to male peers, which could also limit internet access and usage.
Why Is Digital Inequality an Issue?
Many people don’t immediately realize the far-reaching impacts of digital inequality. Here’s a brief look at the undesired effects it has.
Fewer Educational Opportunities
The internet helps individuals study and stay abreast of educational developments. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled ACT exams, which many colleges use for admissions. Remote test-taking became an option for people who could not safely attend rescheduled in-person test dates. However, if a person lacks internet access, they can’t take the ACT at home—or have the same convenient ways to study for it that those with connectivity do.
Similarly, the pandemic shifted schools online in many areas. Even people who have the internet may find it’s not robust enough to deliver the streaming video and other data-intensive content typically necessary for online learning. One study of California counties found that 94 percent of households had internet access. However, only 46 percent of those had high-speed connections.
Reduced Healthcare Access
Digital inequality also minimizes people’s access to medical care and health information. For example, the Indian government mandated that residents sign up for their COVID-19 vaccines through an online platform. Elsewhere, public health officials posted social media alerts about areas of increased spread and how to stay safe. At the same time, misinformation on Twitter and other social websites ran rampant.
Telemedicine is also a handy way to get medical assistance from a doctor without traveling or sitting in a waiting room. However, it requires a reliable internet connection. Similarly, people without access may miss news about free health screenings or clinics, since such information is usually distributed online.
Minimized Social and Work Support
Digital inequality limits a person’s access to support services, such as those for domestic violence victims or individuals questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Most organizations assisting such groups have websites that allow people to learn about services, along with feature quick-escape buttons where visitors can leave the sites quickly in compromising situations. However, without the internet, people may not even know such organizations exist.
Digital inequality creates remote work barriers, too. As of June 2020, nearly twice as many people were working from home as in traditional offices. However, 35 percent of individuals had poor or no internet, making telecommuting impossible. Working from home gives people more flexibility, but not without the necessary infrastructure.
Digital Inequality Has Significant Effects
This overview shows that digital inequality can adversely shape people’s opportunities, information access, social connections, and more. Awareness of the issues is a crucial step in improving the problem.
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, helping to bridge digital inequality gaps will require a collective effort.
Are you on the fastest mobile network? These mobile network symbols can be confusing. Here’s everything you need to know about them.
About The Author