Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People’s Online Skills

Authors: Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Hargittai, E. (2002). Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People's Online Skills. First Monday. 7(4)


Much of the existing literature on the digital divide – the differences between the “haves” and “have nots” regarding access to the Internet – limits its scope to a binary classification of technology use by only considering whether someone does or does not use the Internet. To remedy this shortcoming, in this paper I look at the differences in people’s online skills. In order to measure online ability, I assigned search tasks to a random sample of Internet users from a suburban county in the United States. My findings suggest that people search for content in a myriad of ways and there is considerable difference in whether individuals are able to find various types of content on the Web and a large variance in how long it takes to complete online tasks. Age is negatively associated with one’s level of Internet skill, experience with the technology is positively related to online skill, and differences in gender do little to explain the variance in the ability of different people to find content online.


  • Introduction: Inequalities in Internet Use
  • Refining the Current Approach to the Digital Divide
  • Methods and Data
  • Differences in Ability to Find Content Online
  • Conclusion


I would like to thank Paul DiMaggio for his insightful comments throughout this project, Stan Katz for his ongoing support, and Erica Field for helpful discussions. I am also grateful to Edward Freeland, James Chu, Carolyn Mordas, Jeremy Davis-Turak, and Inna Barmash for their assistance with various components of the project. Generous support from the Markle Foundation is kindly acknowledged. The project has also been supported in part by NSF grant #SES9819907, a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, and through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University. I am also grateful to the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars at Princeton University.

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