Latinos are erasing the digital divide as their internet usage has shot up in the last three years. (Getty Images)

Study: Digital divide disappearing as Latinos catch up on internet usage

The digital divide is vanishing when it comes to Latinos and their internet usage compared to non-Hispanic whites, according to a new report from Pew Hispanic Center released Thursday.

The digital divide, which can be defined as the disparities between those who have access to the resource of the internet, was much more pronounced in 2009. Then, the internet use rates of Latinos were 64 percent, compared to 80 percent for whites. Now the share of Hispanic adults who say they go online at least occasionally has increased to 78 percent. Comparatively, whites are only at 87 percent. This means the digital divide has been nearly halved in just three years.

“Latinos are not only closing the digital divide, but on somewhat newer technologies like social networks, accessing the internet from mobile devices and owning a smartphone they are quickly matching whites and blacks,” says Mark Hugo Lopez, the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

An example of another gap being erased and Latinos even surpassing non-Hispanic whites comes in cellphone ownership. Only minority groups are seeing a rise in cellphone ownership as both Latinos and blacks have surpassed whites since 2009. Hispanic ownership shot from 76 percent to 86 percent, while only 84 percent of whites own a cellphone. When it comes to accessing the internet through mobile devices, Latinos stand out again as 76 percent say they go on the internet on a phone, tablet or other handheld device.

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Another major takeaway from the study was that nearly half of Hispanics live in cellphone-only households. By mid-2012, 47 percent of Latinos lived in such households, while only 38 percent of blacks and 30 percent of whites did. For Lopez, who works as a survey researcher, this news shows him the incredible importance of reaching Latinos through cellphones for polling that seeks to accurately gauge their opinions. This was one of the reasons many believe the opinions of Hispanics were inaccurately assessed leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

But Lopez also says these statistics tell you a lot about Latinos. “It shows the relative youth of Latinos, younger people are more likely to rely on their cellphone than older Americans,” he says. “But it is also a reflection of their mobility, that they choose to go cellphone only.”

In terms of the dwindling digital divide, Lopez says the largest gains have been among foreign-born and Spanish-dominant Hispanics. He says that internet usage rates are leveling off in the 80 to 85 percent range nationwide and this means Hispanics will be able to take advantage of having equal opportunity when it comes to the increasingly-online world.

“There is more of a level playing field than there has been in the past,” Lopez says.

“The other aspect of this is that with newer technology there are no gaps between Latinos and other groups and in some cases Latinos have overtaken or are leading.”

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