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Demographics of Handheld-Only Households

Thu Nov 13 2014
Thom File, Sociologist, Education and Social Stratification Statistics Branch
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As computing and Internet technology have evolved, many people have started accessing the Internet with hand-held devices, such as smartphones. Overall, about 83.8 percent of households reported owning some type of computer last year, with 63.6 percent reporting owning hand-held devices, and 78.5 percent owning more traditional desktops or laptops.

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Regardless of the type of device, computer-owning households were more likely to be young, Asian or white, and affluent, according to a new report  from the American Community Survey. These results conform to the digital divides observed in past Census Bureau reports and closely align with 2013 rates of household Internet use as well.

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However, there is evidence that certain groups rely more than others on hand-held computers as their only type of computer. In 2013, about 5 percent of households reported having only hand-held devices.

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In some cases, the pattern of these handheld-only households is similar to that of overall computer ownership. Hand-held computer ownership by age works this way, with young households reporting higher rates of having only hand-held computers than older householders (about 10 percent of the youngest households fell into this category, compared with only 2.5 percent of the oldest households).

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In other instances, the pattern for using only hand-held devices is directly opposite that of overall computer ownership. Black and Hispanic households, for example, were more likely than both white and Asian households to report owning only a hand-held device. The same pattern appears by income, with low-income households reporting handheld ownership alone at much higher rates than more affluent households (Figure 4).

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Whether or not the emergence of mobile technologies can level traditional digital divides remains an open question, but as hand-held technologies evolve and become more readily available, it will be important to continue tracking trends for households with only hand-held computing devices.

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