Income Level A Precise Predictor of Internet Use

Analysis of several recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Projects find that there are key differences between those who live in households making $75,000 or more relative to those in lower-income households. Some 95% of Americans who live in households earning $75,000 or more a year use the internet at least occasionally, compared with 70% of those living in households earning less than $75,000.

Even among those who use the internet, the well off are more likely than those with less income to use technology. Of those 95% of higher-income internet users:

  • 99% use the internet at home, compared with 93% of the internet users in lower brackets.
  • 93% of higher-income home internet users have some type of broadband connection versus 85% of the internet users who live in households earning less than $75,000 per year. That translates into 87% of all those in live in those better-off households having broadband at home.
  • 95% of higher-income households own some type of cell phone compared with 83% in households with less income.

Comparison Of Broadband Access At Home, Cell Phone Ownership, And Internet Usage By Income Brackets Of General Population (% of Income Group)


Income Level






Broadband at home





Use Internet





Own cellphone





Source: Pew Research, September 2010

The findings in this report come from three surveys by the Pew Internet Project conducted in late 2009 and 2010. In each of those surveys, respondents were asked if their household income fell into certain ranges. The analysis in this report covers the responses of those who did disclose their income.

The relatively well-to-do are also more likely than those in lesser-income households to own a variety of information and communications gear:

  • 79% of those living in households earning $75,000 or more own desktop computers, compared with 55% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 79% of those living in higher-income households own laptops, compared with 47% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 70% of those living in higher-income households own iPods or other MP3 players, compared with 42% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 54% of those living in higher-income households own game consoles, compared with 41% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 12% of those living in higher-income households own e-book readers such as Kindles, compared with 3% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 9% of those living in higher-income households own tablet computers such as iPads, compared with 3% of those living in less well-off homes.


These recent Pew Internet surveys show that the internet users in the higher-income households are the most active participants in a range of online activities, when compared with those who have less income:

  • 93% of higher-income users use email 3
  • 80% access news online 3
  • 71% pay bills online 3
  • 48% have used their cell to send or receive email
  • 88% conduct online product research
  • 37% have donated to charities online

The internet users in higher-income households are more likely than others to go online multiple times a day, both at home and at work. Some 86% of internet users in higher-income households go online daily, compared with 54% in the lowest income bracket.

The most noticeable difference in online engagement between various income groups relates to their intensity of use. Compared with internet users in other income cohorts, higher-income internet users go online more often compared with other groups: 55% are on the internet or are using email several times a day from home. Moreover, the more well-to-do internet users, on any given day are more likely get online news, conduct online research for a product or service, and go online to search for maps or directions.

Those who fall in the top earnings category are also the biggest consumers of online news sources, with 80% of higher-income internet users (vs.74% of the general population) seeking news on the internet.

The higher-income households have not abandoned traditional media altogether; they also turn to print and television, especially for local news. Asked about various platforms where they might get the news on a typical day:

  • 76% of those from higher-income households watch local and national news shows on television
  • 51% of this higher-income group said they get local news from a print version of a newspaper
  • 22% read a print version of a newspaper for national news.

Yet, the online news consumption patterns of this more well off group stand in stark contrast to those living in the lowest income households:

  • 80% of online Americans in the higher income bracket get news on the internet, compared with 60% of the internet users earning less than $30,000 per year
  • 79% of the internet users in the higher earning bracket have visited a government website at the local, state or federal level versus 56% of those who fall into the lowest-income group
  • 61% in the higher bracket seek political news online, compared with 35% from the lowest-income bracket

Online Americans in the higher-income bracket are fully engaged with seeking heath information and conducting other health-related activities online. Internet users in the top income brackets are more likely to search for medical information online, seek treatment information, seek material about doctors and medical facilities, and get data concerning test results.

Comparison Of Online Seeking Of Health-Related Information By Income Brackets Of Internet Users. (% of Group)


Income Level






Test results





Medical facility










Medical treatment





Medical issue





Source: Pew Research, September 2010

Significantly more higher-income Americans are conducting e-commerce activities than members of other income groups:

  • Solid majorities of higher-income internet users research products (88%)
  • Make travel reservations online (83%)
  • Purchase products or services online (81%)
  • Perform online banking (74%)
  • Use the internet to pay bills (71%)
  • Use online classified sites such as Craigslist (60%)


The study examined several controlling factors in examining internet adoption, including community type, education, race, gender, and age (divided into generational groups of Generation Y, Generation X, Trailing Boomers, Leading Boomers, Matures, and After Work age. Regardless of the control factor, those in the higher-income bracket were statistically significantly more likely to be internet and email users than those in the other income brackets with the same control factor.

Simply put, says the report, a person's household income is an independent predictor of the likelihood that she or he will be an internet and email user and to be associated with the online activities cited in this report.

Given that $75,000 is only about one and half times the median household income, the analysis also examined those in the higher-income brackets exclusively.

Examining those living in households with an income of $150,000 or more, there are significant differences with the other income groups. The affluent are significantly more likely to use the internet and email than the rest of the American population. The affluent are more likely than other internet users to participate in video chat, pay bills online, and get online news.

Nearly all of this affluent demographic use the internet or email. Nine in ten of the high-income internet users have searched online for maps or directions, 86% have researched a product online, and 82% get a portion of their news online.

Affluent Income Households Compared Those In Non-Affluent Households For Various Internet Activities (% of Group) 

US Population


All Other Income Groups

Difference in % points

Use email



30 points

Access internet



25 points


US Internet Population


All Other Income Groups

Difference in % points

Participate in video chat



22 points

Pay bills online



19 points

Pay for digital content



13 points

Get news online



11 points

Research product online



8 points

Get online map/directions



7 points

Post a product review



5 points

Source: Pew Research, September 2010

For more information about this analysis, including charts, graphs and access to the PDF file, please visit the Pew Internet here.

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