Digital Inequality

Authors: Eszter Hargittai and Yu-li Patrick Hsieh

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Citation: Hargittai, E. & Hsieh, Y.P. (2013). Digital Inequality. In Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies. Edited by William H. Dutton. Oxford University Press. 129-150.


This chapter investigates the research on inequalities in society, and also considers the digital inequality beyond overly simplistic conceptions of access to technologies. Additionally, it describes how people's background characteristics relate to their web-use skills and what they do online. The social implications of differentiated Internet uses are covered. The theoretical perspectives presented point out various forms of inequality associated with information and communications technology (ICT) uses, and explore both the causes and consequences of digital inequalities from various research fields and traditions. It is noted that skills are not randomly distributed across the population, and that the social context of use refers to how people integrate digital media into their lives. Different types of online activities may have divergent implications for varying aspects of social capital. There are three possible outcomes of widespread digital media uses when it comes to social inequality.


  • Introduction
  • Theoretical approaches to digital inequality
  • The first-level digital divide: differences in access
    • ICT access divides among different population segments
    • Global divide in ICT access
  • The second-level digital divide: differentiated skills and uses
    • Differentiated ICT skills and uses among different demographic groups
    • Differentiated ICT skills and uses by socioeconomic status
    • Global divide in ICT uses
  • Implications of differentiated ICT access, skills, and uses
    • The implications of Internet uses for human and financial capital
    • The implications of Internet uses for social capital and civic engagement
    • Conclusion

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