Offline America: Pew’s latest research shows that 15% of American adults don’t use the Internet at all.

Internet usageFor those of us who spend practically every living minute of our day online, it seems almost unbelievable that there are actually some people in the United States who simply never go online.

The Pew Research Center has been researching this question for the past 15 years. And today, the percentage of “offline American adults” (people age 18 or over who don’t use the Internet) remains stuck at around 15% — a figure that has been stubbornly consistent for the past three years or so:

Pew Research Center Americans Not Online 2000-2015 survey results

But up until then, the percentage had been declining, as can be seen in these milestone Pew survey years:

  • 2000: ~48% of American adults not using the Internet
  • 2005: ~32% not using
  • 2010: ~24% not using
  • 2015: ~15% not using

Part of the long-term shift has been new people interfacing with the Internet.  But another factor is simply the “aging out” of older populations as they pass from the scene.

The demographic dynamics Pew finds on Internet usage show relatively little difference in behavior based on ethnicity — except that only about 5% of Asian-Americans never go online.

Rather, it’s differences in age particularly — but also in income levels and education levels — that are more telling.

offline AmericansThe age breakdown is stark, and shows that at some point, we are bound to have near-total adoption of the Internet:

  • Age 18-29: ~3% don’t use the Internet
  • Age 30-49: ~6% don’t use
  • Age 50-64: ~19% don’t use
  • Age 65+: ~39% don’t use

Income levels are also a determining factor when it comes to Internet usage:

  • Less than $30,000 annual household income: ~25% don’t use the Internet
  • 30,000 – 50,000 annual HH income: ~14% don’t use
  • $50,000 – $75,000 annual HH income: ~5% don’t use
  • Over $75,000 annual HH income: ~3% don’t use

And Pew also finds significant differences based on the amount of formal education:

  • Some high-school level education: ~33% don’t use the Internet
  • High school degree: ~23% don’t use
  • Some college: ~9% don’t use
  • College graduate or post-graduate education: ~4% don’t use

Lastly, while no difference in Internet usage has been found between urban and suburban Americans, the adoption rate in rural areas continues to lag behind:

  • Urban dwellers: ~13% don’t use the Internet
  • Suburban residents: ~13% don’t use
  • Rural areas: ~24% don’t use

One reason for the lower adoption rate in rural areas may be limited Internet access or connectivity problems — although these weren’t one of the key reasons cited by respondents as to why they don’t go online. Pew’s research has found these points raised most often:

  • Have no interest in using the Internet / lack of relevance to daily life: ~34%
  • The Internet is too difficult to use: ~32%
  • The expense of Internet service and/or owning a computer: ~19%

The results of Pew’s latest survey, which queried ~5,000 American adults, can be viewed here. Since the research is conducted annually, it will be interesting to see if Internet usage resumes its drive towards full adoption, or if the ~85% adoption rate continues to be a “ceiling” for the foreseeable future.

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