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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Other areas of Social Concern >> Transport and communication: Household use of computers and the Internet

Feature articles - Transport and communication: Household use of computers and the Internet

In the week prior to the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, 44% of people had used a home computer and 29% had accessed the Internet from home.

Increasingly, computers and the Internet are becoming a part of every day life for many Australians. Personal computers, many of which are connected to the Internet, are found in homes, workplaces, educational institutions and community facilities across the country. People of all ages use computers and the Internet for activities such as recreation, work, study, communication and making financial transactions.

The increasing prevalence of computers and the Internet means that people who are not able to use or access these may have restricted access to information and services, skills development, and special offers and savings. This may adversely affect educational outcomes, employment prospects and other aspects of wellbeing. However, there are also concerns associated with computer and Internet use, including the risk of security and privacy breaches, issues associated with Internet content and practices,1 and health-related issues.


Using computers and the Internet
Data about people who used a computer or the Internet at home in the previous week, and about their characteristics and distribution across Australia, come from the August 2001 Census of Population and Housing. Information on adults' home computer and Internet activities comes from Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 8146.0).


Although people use computers and the Internet in many places, this article focuses on the use of these technologies at home. Between 1994 and 2000, the number of households with home computers doubled, and between 1996 and 2000, the number of households with home Internet access increased almost ninefold. In 2000, over half of all households (3.8 million) had a home computer and one-third (2.3 million) had home Internet access. (For information on earlier trends, see Australian Social Trends 1999, Information technology in the home)

HOUSEHOLDS WITH HOME COMPUTERS AND INTERNET ACCESS(a)
Graph - Households with home computers and Internet access(a)

(a) Figures for 1995 and 1997 are averages which have been calculated using data from 1994 and 1996, and 1996 and 1998 respectively.

Source: Australian Social Trends, 1999 (ABS cat. no. 4102.0); Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 8146.0).


Home computer and Internet users
In 2001, the proportion of people who had used a computer or the Internet at home in the previous week varied across the population. For example, men were slightly more likely than women to have used either a computer (45% compared with 42%) or the Internet (31% compared with 27%).

Children aged up to 17 years were the most likely to have used a computer at home (52% compared with 44% for all age groups), while people aged 18-34 years were the most likely to have accessed the Internet at home (38% compared with 29% for people of all ages). The lower proportions of older Australians (those aged 65 years and over) who had used a computer (10%) or the Internet (6%) at home may be partially explained by their lower exposure to such technology and fewer opportunities to gain computing skills over their lifetime. Despite this, some of the highest growth in computer and Internet use was among older people.

Home use of computers and the Internet increased with income, with people in households in the lowest gross household income quintile being the least likely to have used a computer (27%) or the Internet (16%) at home in the previous week. People in households in the highest income quintile were the most likely to have used either, being more than twice as likely to have used a computer (64%) and three times as likely to have used the Internet (48%) at home. These levels of use were well above the average for all people.

In keeping with the high level of home computer and Internet use by children, people living in couple households with dependent children were more likely than other households to have used a computer (56%) and the Internet (36%). However, the proportions of people living in lone-parent households who had used a computer (42%) or the Internet (24%) at home were slightly below the national average. People living on their own were the least likely to have used either of the technologies in the previous week (25% and 17% respectively), partly reflecting the number of older people who live alone.

Educational attainment is also related to computer and Internet useage. In 2001, 71% of people aged 15 years and over with a bachelor degree or higher had used a computer at home in the previous week, with 55% having used the Internet.

PEOPLE WHO USED A COMPUTER OR THE INTERNET AT HOME(a) - 2001
Used a computer
Used the Internet
Total
%(b)
%(b)
'000(c)

Age group
0-17 years
52.2
28.0
4,713
18-34 years
51.0
38.3
4,489
35-64 years
44.5
31.3
7,196
65 years and over
10.3
6.0
2,371

Sex
Male
45.3
31.0
9,267
Female
42.1
27.1
9,503

Gross household income quintile(d)
Lowest
26.6
16.4
3,812
Second
30.9
18.1
3,663
Third
42.1
25.9
3,907
Fourth
53.1
35.4
3,689
Highest
63.5
47.5
3,699

Selected household types
Couple only
35.3
25.7
3,364
Couple with children(e)
56.4
36.3
7,789
Lone-parent(e)
41.5
24.1
1,519
Lone-person
24.5
16.9
1,712

Total people
43.7
29.0
18,769

(a) In the week prior to the 2001 Census.
(b) People for whom there was no response were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(c) Includes people for whom there was no response.
(d) Because income was collected in ranges, quintiles are of uneven size.
(e) Households with at least one dependent child.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


Computer and Internet use across Australia
Computers and the Internet have the potential to be a great advantage to people living in remote Australia, increasing their access to services and resources far from home. In recognition of this, the Networking the Nation program was developed to provide Internet access to people in rural and regional areas of Australia.1 However, computer and Internet use remains lower in remote areas than in the Major Cities. In 2001, the more remote they were, the less likely people were to have used either technology. In the Major Cities, 46% of people had used a computer and 32% had accessed the Internet. In comparison, in remote areas, much smaller proportions had done so at home (30% and 18% respectively).2 However, research into Internet users in early 2002 showed that those who used the Internet in rural Australia did so more often and for longer than those who lived in cities.3

HOME COMPUTER AND INTERNET USERS IN SELECTED REMOTENESS AREAS - 2001
Graph - Home computer and internet users in selected Remoteness Areas - 2001

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


The proportion of people who had used a computer or accessed the Internet at home in the previous week varied little between states and territories. However, the proportions of people in the Australian Capital Territory who had used a computer (59%) or accessed the Internet (41%) at home were notably higher than elsewhere, while people in the Northern Territory were the least likely to have done so (34% and 22% respectively).

Home computer activities
Home computers are used for a variety of purposes. In 2000, 53% of adults had used their computer for work-related purposes, making this the most common reason for their use. However, reasons for computer use varied with age. Young adults, many of whom are studying, were the most likely to have used their computer for learning or study activities (63%). Young adults (aged 18-24 years) were also the most likely to have played computer games (55%). Approximately 60% of people aged 25-54 years who had used a home computer in 2000 had done so for work-related purposes. This is consistent with the comparatively high labour force participation rate among people in this age group.

Personal or family correspondence was the most common computer activity among people aged 55-64 years (57%) and those aged 65 years and over (55%). People in these age groups were also the most likely to have used their home computer to keep personal or family records.

HOME COMPUTER ACTIVITIES OF ADULTS(a) - 2000
Age group (years)
18-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65 and over
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Work-related purposes
33
57
61
60
51
23
53
Personal/family correspondence
30
45
42
47
57
55
43
Learning or study activities
63
44
35
32
27
32
40
Keeping personal/family records
22
35
38
38
46
44
36
Playing games
55
35
32
28
26
34
35

(a) Percentages are of all adults who used a computer at home.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 8146.0).


Home Internet activities
The most popular home Internet activity in 2000 was using email or chat sites. Over two-thirds of all home Internet users had used email or accessed a chat site, including more than three-quarters of those aged 65 years and over. Email may be especially useful in facilitating communication for the elderly, those with impaired mobility and those living alone or in remote areas.

HOME INTERNET ACTIVITIES OF ADULTS(a) - 2000
Age group (years)
18-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65 and over
Total
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Using email or chat sites
73
67
67
64
67
77
68
General browsing
64
63
54
50
54
48
57
Finding information for work
16
41
42
45
34
17
36
Finding information for study
51
23
23
21
12
*16
26
Finding information on goods/services
23
30
27
25
29
*13
26
Playing games
20
9
5
3
*5
*3
8

(a) Percentages are of all adults who accessed the Internet at home.

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 8146.0).


General browsing was the second most common home Internet activity of adults in 2000. Young adults were the most likely of all ages to have used the Internet for this purpose, with 64% of Internet users aged 18-24 years having done so.

Many adults also use the Internet as a research tool. Over one-third (36%) had searched the Internet for work-related information - most of these were aged 25-54 years. Just over half (51%) of young adults had sought study-related information.

While one-quarter of all home Internet users had researched information on goods and services in 2000, Internet shopping (i.e. purchasing or ordering goods and services online) was relatively uncommon, despite the potentially greater choice, and time and money savings.4 In 2000, 15% of all adult Internet users (regardless of whether they used the Internet at home) had purchased or ordered goods or services over the Internet, up from 12% in 1999. The most common Internet purchases were books or magazines (33% of Internet shoppers had purchased these) and music (21% of Internet shoppers). Among Internet users who did not shop online, 43% indicated they had no need or had not bothered, while another 29% had concerns about the security of their personal and financial information.

Using the Internet to make financial transactions and to access services can save time (e.g. no need to travel or wait in queues) and money (e.g. travel costs and lower bank fees).4 In 2000, 9% of all Australian adults had paid bills or transferred funds over the Internet, compared with 3% in 1999. The same number had accessed government services, including electronically lodging bill payments and tax returns, obtaining information and accessing services relating to taxation and employment or unemployment.

Internet access can also assist employees to work from home. Of the 430,000 employees working from home in 2000, 35% accessed their employer's computer system using the Internet (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2002, Working from home).


Households without home access to computers and the Internet (IT)
Despite the growing uptake of home computers and the Internet, in 2000 there were 3.3 million households (46%) without a home computer and 4.8 million (66%) without home Internet access. More than half of these indicated they had no need for, or no interest in, having a computer or Internet access. However, 24% of those without a home computer and 19% of those without home Internet access said they found the costs too high.

REASONS WHY HOUSEHOLDS DID NOT HAVE IT ACCESS AT HOME - 2000
No home computer
No home Internet access
Main reason
%
%

No need/interest
59
51
Costs too high
24
19
Don't know how to use a computer
7
. .
Have access elsewhere
5
6

Source: Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 8146.0).


Endnotes
1 The National Office for the Information Economy <www.noie.gov.au>, accessed 28 August 2002.
2 For more information on the ABS Remoteness classification, see Australian Social Trends 2003, Population characteristics and remoteness.
3 Reid, A. 2002, Town and Country & the Digital Divide, Neilsen//NetRatings.
4 Centre for International Economics 2001, Save@Home: Valuing the benefits of home Internet access, prepared for the National Office for the Information Economy, Canberra.

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