1. Home
  2. Knowledge Base
  3. Digital Divide – Definition

Digital Divide – Definition

Digital Divide Definition

Social and economic inequality in terms of accessibility of Information and Communication Technologies is called the digital divide. Ones who are on the disadvantaged side of the divide lack access to the internet, thus missing out on all of the information and service available thereon.

A Little More on What is the Digital Divide

There are numerous contributors to the digital divide:

  • Socioeconomic Status – Socioeconomic differences between people contribute the digital divide among them. The people from higher socioeconomic strata have easier access to the Internet, while people in the lower strata lack accessibility.
  • Location – There are also geographic differences contributing to the digital divide. This is true both in geography and between the urban areas and rural areas. Certain geographies have greater Internet access. Also, individuals in rural areas often lack the infrastructure to have adequate access to the Internet. The availability of internet connection differs in developed nations, developing countries, and emerging nations.
  • Education – Level of education is another factor that creates the divide. Geographical location also affects accessibility.

The digital divide is actually larger than simple access to the internet. It has been proved that access to Information and communication technologies, such as smartphones and computers, impacts the lives of people. Traditionally, the digital divide refers to the adaptability of technology by different groups. Later, Internet access became the most crucial parameter to measure the gap. In recent years, as inexpensive mobile phones have proliferated globally with improved network coverage, the digital divide is now the relative inequality between people with different bandwidth or skills.

The digital divide can be described as, “who, with which characteristics, connects how to what”.

“Who”- individuals, businesses, schools and universities, hospitals, organizations, etc.

“With which characteristics” – socioeconomic status, education, geographic location, age, etc.

“connects how” – minimal access, intensive and extensive access, innovation, etc.

“to what” – mobile phone, fixed line, broadband, digital TV, etc.

References for Digital Divide


Academic Research on Digital Divide

  • ·       Second-level digital divide: Mapping differences in people’s online skills, Hargittai, E. (2001). This paper examines the wide range of differences in online capability. Demographics, internet experience, and social support networks all play a part in determining how savvy someone can be when it comes to utilizing the internet.
  • ·       Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide, Selwyn, N. (2004). New media & society6(3), 341-362.
  • This paper takes an in-depth look at the digital divide. This research dives into the origin of the concept, and then examines how an individual’s access to information and communications technology can impact their societal engagement both economically and socially.
  • ·       The digital divide as a complex and dynamic phenomenon, Van Dijk, J., & Hacker, K. (2003). The information society19(4), 315-326 This paper examines the digital divide and offers a definition of the phenomena. The authors also use demographic data in an attempt to predict the future of the digital divide and the ramifications that changes may have on society. Related policy perspectives are discussed.
  • From the ‘digital divide‘to ‘digital inequality’: Studying Internet use as penetration increases, DiMaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). Princeton: Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University4(1), 4-2. This paper suggests that efforts to level digital inequality, or formal access to information technologies, should be a major concern. This research describes five different dimensions of digital inequality, and then offers a model to test the relationship between those different dimensions. Individual actions and policy recommendations are made.
  • Digital divide research, achievements and shortcomings, Van Dijk, J. A. (2006). Poetics34(4-5), 221-235. This paper takes a deeper look at the concept of the digital divide. The author tackles three questions: 1 – What is the type of inequality when we talk about the digital divide? 2 – Is this a new type of inequality, or is it similar to inequalities that surround other scarce resources? 3 – Does an information-based society create new kinds of inequality? This research also examines the current state of academic investigation into the digital divide.
  • Gradations in digital inclusion: Children, young people and the digital divide, Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2007). New media & society9(4), 671-696. This paper examines the digital divide as it applies to younger people. By analyzing a national survey in the UK, the state of digital inequality among youth between nine and nineteen years old is addressed. This research shows that different levels of internet use can begin in early youth and can become amplified over time. Differences in demographics and internet expertise are also examined.
  • Addressing the digital divide, Cullen, R. (2001). Online information review25(5), 311-320. This article takes a look at the digital divide and the factors that lead to this phenomenon in industrialized countries like the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand. Strategies and policies to reduce the digital divide are discussed. The authors also examine how the digital divide occurs in developing countries. Methods for dealing with the digital divide in second and third-world countries are also proposed.
  • Explaining the global digital divideEconomic, political and sociological drivers of cross-national Internet use, Guillén, M. F., & Suárez, S. L. (2005). Social forces84(2), 681-708. The authors of this research argue that the digital divide is the result of a set of economic, regulatory, and sociopolitical environments, and that this effect evolves over time. They predict future effects of information technologies. Data from a large sample of countries during the late 20th and early 21st centuries supports their hypothesis. Implications of information on the global economy and sociopolitical systems are discussed.
  • Social stratification and the digital divide, Wilson, K. R., Wallin, J. S., & Reiser, C. (2003). Social Science Computer Review21(2), 133-143.
  • This research builds on the commonly held concept of the digital divide by exploring the possibility that racial, geographic, and gender divisions might be at work. Urban versus rural respondents are also studied. The authors conclude that there is a need for further study regarding the technology integration efforts in underserved communities.
  • Factors contributing to global digital divide: Some empirical results, Bagchi, K. (2005). Journal of Global Information Technology Management8(3), 47-65. This study examines the factors that contribute to the digital divide on a global scale. The digital divide is defined, and a model using an innovative set of indicators is used to test the efforts of NGOs to deal with the issue. The results highlight the difference influences that give rise to the digital divide in various countries.
  • The digital divide: The role of political institutions in technology diffusion, Milner, H. V. (2006). Comparative Political Studies39(2), 176-199. The author of this piece takes the unconventional approach of identifying political factors as one of the prime causes of the digital divide. Data from almost 200 countries from 1991 to 2001 demonstrates that autocratic governments do less to promote the spread of technology than their democratic counterparts. The findings suggest that increased democracy will also hasten a reduction in the digital divide.


Was this article helpful?