Lockdown shows “digital user divide”

05 Nov, 2021
Lockdown shows “digital user divide”
Alexandra Turcu

AUT’s NZ Work Research Institute (NZWRI), in collaboration with InternetNZ, has released the latest New Zealand World Internet Project (WIP) report.

AUT runs the New Zealand survey and analysis, which sits alongside similar reporting activities by 38 WIP partner countries. New Zealand has been included in this international benchmarking endeavour since 2007.

The large-scale, nationally representative survey provides insights into how Kiwis used the internet during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

During that time, up to half of the just over 2000 respondents increased their internet usage for the purposes of communication, information, entertainment, and financial transactions.

Perhaps surprisingly, the increase in internet activity during lockdown was largely temporary, with most users reporting their internet use returned to pre-lockdown levels soon after restrictions were lifted.

The survey also found a significant “digital user divide” with respect to income levels and age. Simply put, the lower the household income, the more likely it was that the respondent was not an internet user.

Approximately 13 per cent of those earning under $30,000 a year (the lowest household income) described themselves as non-users; in contrast, this figure ranged between 0-4 per cent of higher income households.

In terms of age, the proportion of non-users in the age ranges of 16-24 years and 55-64 years was between 2 and 5 per cent. Among older respondents (over 65 years), 16% reported they were non-users. Asked why they didn’t use internet, many said they “didn't see the purpose”.

In another key finding, over a quarter of non-users (28%) said that a better understanding of the internet and/or cheaper costs associated with internet access would help them become internet users.

NZWRI researcher Alexandra Turcu, who led the study, said the WIP survey makes clear that income, age, education and access are all important variables when it comes to Kiwis engaging effectively with the internet.

“We saw a clear division in digital use across household income levels and age. This division is especially important in the context of the COVID-19 lockdown, which saw individuals who have internet access rely more heavily on the internet than ever before. When it comes to digital awareness, access, and engagement, inequity can have major wellbeing implications for those who are disconnected.”

InternetNZ Chief Executive, Jordan Carter, agrees, saying the COVID-19 lockdowns have brought even more clarity and urgency to reach digital equity for all New Zealanders.

“There are too many people in Aotearoa who are excluded from the online world for various reasons, including cost of the Internet, access in remote areas, and the level of skill that people have to use the Internet and devices. This is why InternetNZ is a major supporter of the Digital Equity Coalition Aotearoa (www.digitalequity.nz), which has been established to bring the digital inclusion ecosystem together and drive towards digital equity.”