This report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement and conducted by the Michael Cohen Group LLC, under the auspices of a grant to the Ready to Learn Partnership (RTLP) will focus on the use of media to help children learn to read. The purpose of the study was to examine technology acquisition throughout all levels of income. If technology had permeated throughout all of society, regardless of income, then it could be used as a tool for literacy.
From the report:
Overall Key Findings
Several key findings emerge from this research:
Households at all income levels participate in media ownership. For example, among caregivers with annual household incomes below $25,000, nearly three-quarters subscribe to cable TV, two-thirds have DVD players, over half have mobile phones, more than one-third have computers, and one-quarter have home access to the Internet.
Access equals ownership. For most, access to media technology translates
into ownership of that technology. For instance, while Internet access may be
found in places outside of the home (work, libraries, etc.), most individuals who access the Internet do so from home.
Participation is in the full range of media content and technologies.
Variation by income differs depending on the technology, however all technologies are represented in at least some households at all income levels.
There are substantial differences in the incidence of ownership by
income level for many media – in particular, more expensive and emerging
media technologies are less commonly found at lower income levels. For instance, ownership of wireless handheld devices ranges from 8% of those with incomes of less than $25,000 to 50% of those with incomes of greater than $75,000.
Other technologies enjoy near universal penetration. The least variation is found for a mature technology: television (which 95% of households earning less than $25,000 a year own, and 100% of those earning more than $75,000 a year own). Cable, radio, and CD-players are also found in most homes at all income levels.
Ownership and involvement in media and technology is about both affordability and perceived value(s); not everyone necessarily wants all media. For instance, videogame ownership tops out at 58% of households earning $75,000 a year or more, and there is little income difference in ownership of this technology.
In addition to ownership of media technology hardware, most individuals subscribe to additional services that deliver a wide range of media content. Most households with TVs also have cable service; those with computers also have Internet access (dial up or broadband).
Once a technology is owned, the ways in which caregivers use the technology are nearly identical at all income levels. Usage rates in computer owning low-income households meet or exceed overall usage rates in such key areas as work and professional tasks (68% compared to 55%) and for study purposes (45% compared to 38%).
Additionally, most caregivers engage in basic pre- and early-literacy learning activities with their children on a regular basis. There are some differences in the frequency with which children are read to and encouraged to spend time with books, but caregivers at all income levels are involved in fostering early language and literacy learning.
Other Key Findings:
Findings indicate that ownership of some media technologies is nearly universal (e.g., television) with little or no differences by income level. Other technologies are nearly universal at high incomes, but present in different degrees at other income levels (e.g., computers, mobile phones, cable). In contrast, some technologies – such as videogame systems – may not ever approach universality. This suggests that factors beyond income – perhaps limited interest or values – are at play. However, for some newer media technologies – including DVR’s (33%) and wireless handheld devices (14%) – it may be too soon to tell which ownership track will be followed.
In relation to Computers and Internet:
Computers are present in a majority of households. Sixty-three percent of caregivers’ households have computers. While levels of computer ownership differ considerably by income, nearly 40% of those earning less than $25,000 own computers.
The great majority of computer owners (93%) have Internet access at home, with little variation by income except in type of access (broadband or dial up).
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of children using home computers also go online. Not surprisingly, rates of usage are lower among children five or younger (36%) than among six- to eight-year-olds (75%).
The specific ways in which computers are used (email, storing photos, household management, work or school related tasks, etc.) varies little by income.
In relation to videogames
Videogame systems are not a universally owned technology – at any income level. Indeed, just over half of households with incomes above $75,000 (58%) own videogame systems, compared with 40% of low-income households.
This suggests that income and affordability are not the only variables to consider in describing and analyzing media penetration. Videogame systems may appeal to a smaller segment of the population than other media technologies.
In this era of widespread electronic screen media, the findings show that print media – particularly books – continue to be a significant presence in all households. Independent of income differences, the great majority of caregivers report owning children’s books (96%) as well as adult fiction (87%) and non-fiction (92%). There is little variation in the presence of books in the home by income level.
There is variation by income in subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. For example, virtually all households (93%) with incomes over $75,000 subscribe to print media, whereas only 44% of households with incomes of $25,000 or less report subscribing to publications.
...some of these findings suggest that financial barriers to media and technology ownership are being lowered, and that the motivations to use media technologies are increasing, while other findings indicate that there continue to be real income differences in ownership and use, particularly for more expensive and emerging technologies. In fact, both are true. Regardless of how one assesses the current state, it is clear that, given the proliferation and increased affordability of media technologies, the metaphor of the “digital divide” no longer adequately characterizes the complex relationship between income and ownership of media technology. The current state is perhaps best described as a “digital continuum.”