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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
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Contents >> Culture & Leisure >> Lifestyle: Information technology in the home

Lifestyle: Information technology in the home

Between 1994 and 1998, the proportion of all households with a computer rose from 29% to 47%, while from 1996 to 1998 the proportion with internet access rose from 4% to 19%.

Home computers and the internet are rapidly becoming everyday tools for communication, information gathering, study and research, tele-working and operating home-based businesses. At the same time, the multi-media dimension of home computers and the internet allows them to be used for a wide range of cultural and recreational activities: listening to music, watching television and films, photography and art.


Data sources

The primary source of data for this article is derived from responses to a set of questions first included in the February 1994 Population Survey Monitor (PSM), and included quarterly in 1996 and 1998. The PSM is an interviewer-based survey of approximately 3,300 households, and relates to usual residents aged 15 years and over. Data referring to 1998 is taken from the publication, Household Use of Information Technology, and relates to the average of the four PSM surveys in that year.

Access to the internet

The internet is an interconnection of thousands of computer networks throughout the world, linked via a number of avenues, including telephone cables and optic fibres. Often referred to as the 'information superhighway', it can be used to communicate with others, to gather and provide information, to conduct business and as a source of entertainment. A home computer with a modem can connect to an Internet Service Provider to gain access to the internet.1

Questions on household access to the internet were not asked in the 1994 PSM.


Growth in household adoption of computers and the internet
In February 1994, there were 1.9 million households with a home computer. By November 1998 this had risen to 3.2 million - just under half (47%) of all households.

The growth in the number of households with access to the internet has been even more rapid. In February 1996, there were around 262,000 households (4% of all households) with access to the internet. This reached 1.3 million (19% of households) by November 1998.

ABS time use surveys of persons aged 15 years or more show that between 1992 and 1997 the average time spent using a computer increased from 97 to 103 minutes per day for those who used a home computer. In 1997, on average, there were around 172,000 people each day who accessed the internet at home. These people each spent 75 minutes daily on this activity, on average.

This rapid embrace of computer technology is set to continue in the foreseeable future. In 1998, 12% of households currently without computers said they intended to purchase one in the following 12 months. If these expectations are realised, nearly 3.5 million households will have a home computer by the end of 1999.

It is difficult to compare Australian household computer ownership or usage with other countries as there is very little data available for a comparable reference period, and what is available is derived from a variety of different sources. However, computer ownership in Australia appears to be ahead of the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA). For example, in 1997, 33% of households in the UK, and 37% in the USA2 had a computer, compared with 36% in Australia in the previous year.

Patterns of computer ownership and usage vary, depending on household income, household type, and the age, sex and level of educational attainment of household members.

HOUSEHOLDS WITH HOME COMPUTERS AND INTERNET ACCESS

With a computer
With internet access


'000
%(a)
'000
%(a)

February 1994
1,878
29.4
n.a.
n.a.
February 1996
2,392
36.0
262
3.9
February 1998
2,880
42.4
854
12.6
May 1998
2,879
42.1
971
14.2
August 1998
3,195
45.9
1,245
17.9
November 1998
3,240
47.4
1,272
18.6

(a) Of all households.

Source: Unpublished data, Household Use of Information Technology, 1998; Population Survey Monitor, Australia, November 1998 (cat. no. 4103.0).


Income
Although a small basic computer can be obtained fairly cheaply, additional equipment, including software, and the on-going costs of internet access can be expensive. Consequently, households with higher incomes are more likely to have a computer and internet access. In 1998, 15% of households with a gross annual income of $14,000 or less had a computer, and 4% had internet access, rising to 74% and 36% respectively for those with incomes over $66,000. For households with a computer but without internet access, only 18% of those with a gross annual income up to $14,000 intended acquiring internet access in the next 12 months, compared with 40% among those with income over $66,000.

The proportion of households without a computer who identified cost as the main barrier to acquiring one, declined from 31% in February 1996 to 26% in February 1998, partly attributable to the fall in computer prices which occurred in this period.

HOME COMPUTER PRESENCE AND USAGE, AND INTERNET ACCESS BY FAMILIES IN HOUSEHOLDS, 1998

Computer present in home(b)
Frequent computer usage(a)(b)
Internet access(b)
Family type
%
%
%

Couple with children
67.4
60.1
23.1
One-parent
42.8
35.8
11.0
Couple without children
32.8
26.8
12.8
Lone-person
19.4
14.8
6.9
Other
51.0
42.6
22.0
All households
44.6
38.1
15.9

(a) Used a computer at least once a week.
(b) Proportion of all households in each category.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology 1998, (cat. no. 8146.0).


Type of family
Differences in home computer usage among family types indicates that the presence of children is a key determinant in their decision to acquire a computer or internet access. In 1998, 67% of all couple households with children had a computer in their home, 60% frequently used a computer at home, and 23% had internet access. For one-parent families, these proportions were lower (43%, 36% and 11% respectively). However, computer ownership and usage was lower still for couples without children and for lone-person families.

HOME COMPUTER USAGE AND INTERNET ACCESS, BY AGE AND SEX, 1998

Frequent computer usage(a)
Accessed internet from home(b)


Males
Females
Persons
Males
Females
Persons
Age group (years)
%
%
%
%
%
%

Children
    5-9
39.3
35.9
37.6
2.5
1.4
2.0
    10-14
62.8
59.8
61.4
13.2
10.6
11.9
    15-17
66.5
64.5
65.5
17.9
15.4
16.7
Adults
    18-24
40.8
38.1
39.5
16.2
10.4
13.3
    25-39
36.6
34.1
35.3
15.1
9.4
12.2
    40-54
38.8
32.2
35.5
14.1
6.7
10.4
    55 and over
13.3
8.0
10.6
4.1
1.4
2.7
All persons
36.5
31.7
34.1
11.7
6.9
9.3

(a) People who used a computer at least once a week, as a proportion of all people in each age group.
(b) People who used a computer at least once a week and also accessed the internet, of all people in each age group.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, 1998 (cat. no. 8146.0).


Children and adults
The 1998 PSM questionnaires asked which members of the household frequently used a computer, and whether these people also accessed the internet. As children get older, their use of a home computer and the internet increases. In 1998, 38% of 5-9 year olds frequently used a computer at home, and 2% also accessed the internet; for 15-17 year olds, the proportions increased to 66% and 17%. These patterns were evident both for boys and for girls.

In contrast, adult use of a home computer and the internet declined with age, gradually for those aged between 18 and 54, and then more sharply after that. In 1998, the proportion of those aged between 18 and 54 who used a home computer at least once a week varied between 35% and 40%, while only 11% of those aged 55 and over frequently used a computer. Home internet access in the 12 months to November 1998 also declined in the older age group.

These patterns of computer usage suggest that adult usage may be related to the presence of children at home and to participation in the labour force. On the other hand, many of those aged 55 and over may have had little exposure to information technology and may feel less comfortable using a computer.

Male/female differences
In every age group, males were more likely than females to use home computers. In 1998, 37% of all males and 32% of all females aged 5 and over used a home computer at least once a week, and among adults aged 18 and over, 14% of men and 8% of women used a home computer daily. Part of the difference might relate to how much time they had available. In February - May 1998, 20% of women aged 15 years and over, and 16% of men in the same age range reported 'no time' as the reason why they did not use an existing home computer.

Males in every age group were more likely than females to access the internet from their home computer, although differences are more marked for adults. In 1998, 12% of males accessed the internet from home, compared to 7% of females.

Males were also more interested in using their home computer for games than for study, whereas the reverse was true for females. In 1998, 63% of males aged over 5 years who frequently used a home computer played computer games on it and 53% used their computer for study purposes, compared to 50% and 56% respectively for females.

Men were more likely than women to engage in work-related activities on their home computer. In 1998, 73% of employed men aged 18 and over who frequently used a home computer used it for work-related activities, compared to 66% of employed women.


HOME USAGE OF INTERNET(a), BY LEVEL OF EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT, 1998
(a) Of those aged 18 years and over who frequently used a computer.
(b) Includes those with a Year 12 certificate or equivalent.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, 1998 (cat. no. 8146.0).

Level of education
The higher their level of educational attainment, the greater the likelihood that adult members of the household would be internet users. In 1998, 9% of Year 12 certificate holders had used the internet at home, 10% of those with a trade or other certificate, 17% of those with an associate or undergraduate diploma, and 30% of those with a bachelor degree.

HOUSEHOLDS WITH COMPUTERS AND INTERNET ACCESS, BY STATE AND REGION, 1998

With computers
Internet access
%
%

State/Territory
    New South Wales
44.3
17.7
    Victoria
46.8
15.1
    Queensland
43.2
15.1
    South Australia
42.9
13.1
    Western Australia
43.2
14.6
    Tasmania
35.5
10.4
    Northern Territory
44.7
16.1
    Australian Capital Territory
66.1
28.2
Region
    Capital city households
48.2
19.0
    Other households
38.4
10.6

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, 1998 (cat. no. 8146.0).


State, Territory and region
Differences in the socio-economic profile of people living in the different States and Territories (age, sex, income, households with children, and education levels of household members) may be among the reasons why the proportion of households with computers and internet access was not uniform throughout Australia. For example, in 1998, the ACT, which has a relatively young and well educated population, had the highest proportion of households who owned or were buying a computer (66%), and the highest proportion of households with internet access (28%). Tasmania, on the other hand, with a relatively older population, recorded the lowest levels of computer ownership (36%) and internet access (10%).

The ongoing deregulation of the Australian telecommunications industry has aroused community concerns in regional areas of Australia about the level of services to inland and sparsely populated areas. These concerns have been reflected in the accompanying debate3 over the Universal Service Obligation (USO) (see box). Since 1994, when statistics on household ownership and usage of computers were first collected by the ABS, the proportion of households with computers and access to the internet has been higher in the eight capital cities than in other regions. In 1998, 48% of capital city households had a computer, and 19% of their members accessed the internet from home, compared with 38% and 11% respectively, for households outside of the capital cities.

TYPE OF HOME COMPUTER USAGE(a), 1998

Males
Females
%
%

Used computer for games(b)
62.7
49.9
Used computer for study(b)
53.0
55.9
Used home computer for work(c)
72.9
65.9

(a) Of those who frequently used a computer.
(b) Refers to persons aged 5 years and over.
(c) Refers to employed persons over 18 years.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, 1998 (cat. no. 8146.0).


Home computers and work-related activities
In 1998, 2.3 million people reported using a home computer for work-related activities. This included employees taking work home, employees working from home ('tele-workers') and the self-employed. The introduction of the modem and the internet have increased opportunities to use home computers for work-related activities. With a home computer, modem and the internet, people can access their work computer and external data bases, and can communicate cheaply and efficiently with any number of other parties, at any time or location. In 1998, 386,000 people (5% of employed persons) accessed their employer's computer from a home modem, and 293,000 (4% of employed persons) were tele-workers. Male tele-workers substantially outnumbered females, both absolutely (210,000 men and 82,000 women) and as a proportion of the number of employed men and women (4% and 2% respectively).


The universal service obligation

This is defined in the Telecommunications Act 1997. Under current arrangements, it obliges Telstra to ensure that standard telephone services and pay phones are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business. The Government has announced its intention to include a digital data capability in the USO. This would effectively make a 64 kbit/sec. digital data capability available, on demand, throughout Australia.3

Tele-workers

Tele-workers are employees who have: a home computer; a formal agreement with their employer to work at home; and have a home modem which enables them to access their employer's computer.

Electronic commerce

In this review, electronic commerce ('e-commerce') refers to the use of the internet or other on-line facilities to order or pay for goods or services.


Private use of the internet for electronic commerce
Although increasing, the number of private individuals using the internet to pay bills or transfer funds was still small when compared to the numbers who use other forms of electronic commerce ('e-commerce'). In the three months preceding February 1998, 44,000 adults, or 0.3% of people aged 18 years and over, used the internet to pay bills or transfer funds. In the three months preceding November 1998, this number rose to 112,000, or approximately 1% of adults. In comparison, 4.8 million (36%) adults paid bills or transferred funds by phone, 8.2 million (61%) via electronic funds transfer at point of sale (EFTPOS), and 9.3 million (68%) via automatic teller machines (ATMs).

Substantially more adults used the internet to purchase goods or services for private use than for paying bills or transferring funds. In 1998, approximately 286,000 adults, or 7% of adult home internet users, used their internet access to make one or more private purchases. Of these on-line purchasers, 83% paid on-line and 64% purchased from foreign web sites - two developments which have long-term implications for local business, government revenue and Australia's balance of payments.

There were, however, substantially more people expressing an interest in internet-based e-commerce than were actually engaged in these activities. In November 1998, 31% of men and 24% of women reported an interest in internet-based shopping, and 39% and 37%, respectively, in internet-based banking.

In part, the difference between interest in, and practice of, internet-based shopping, reflected the fact that by November 1998, only 19% of households had internet access. It has also been argued that the current volume of internet commerce (and internet adoption) would be greater but for people's concerns about consumer protection4 - that is, the security of their financial transactions when paying by credit or charge card; securing redress and compensation for defective goods and inferior services; response times (i.e. the length of time from placing an order to delivery); and confidentiality (fears that personal information will be accessible by, or provided to, third parties).


Endnotes
1 Honour Fiona August 1996, The Net Starter Guide, Australia's guide to getting on the internet, Next Publishing Pty Ltd.

2 U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration 1998, Falling through the net II: New data on the digital divide, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Washington D.C.

3 Australian Communications Authority August 1998, Digital Data Enquiry, Public Inquiry under Section 486(1) of the Telecommunications Act 1997, Report to the Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts, ACA, Melbourne.

4 The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit 1998, Report 360, Internet Commerce: To buy or not to buy?, May 1998, AGPS, Canberra.



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