In recent years, information and communication technologies (ICT) have diffused rapidly in both economy and private life. A differentiated look at the tendencies of the ICT diffusion shows that not all population groups are participating likewise in the diffusion. For instance the percentage of Internet users among the urban population is by far higher than in rural areas. Furthermore, ICT use also depends on individual characteristics, such as age, sex and/or education. This observation coined the term of the digital divide which describes that the access to and the use of ICT depends on social and regional factors. The result of this digital divide is the disadvantage of the ICT nonusers in acquiring information, a development which should not be underestimated, especially given the structural change towards a knowledge and information society.

The aim of the research project is to empirically analyse disparities in ICT usage in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Here, especially regional aspects, but also individual characteristics were considered to achieve a preferably broad outline of the causes of the digital divide in Baden-Wuerttemberg. The study was complemented by analyses for Germany. The empirical work is based on two large data sets: the SOEP data and the INKAR data. This provides the opportunity of merging detailed individual and regional information.

The results of the multivariate analyses at regional level do not support the hypothesis that a higher local proportion of people living in rural communities is accompanied with a lower county-wide Internet use rate. Other regional characteristics, such as the proportion of foreigners, the proportion of highly qualified employees, and the regional rate of unemployment, turn out to be more important. Thus, it is not rurality per se that explains differences in Internet use. The results rather indicate that it is the different composition of individual characteristics between rural and urban population that accounts for the regional digital divide.

At individual level, the estimation results show that the decision to become a new Internet user is strongly influenced by individual characteristics. In line with previous research results, individuals who are more highly educated, younger, and wealthier are more likely to access the Internet. Moreover, a strong and positive impact of the local proportion of experienced Internet users who live around hitherto non-users is observable, which underlines the importance of network effects for the individual adoption decision. The population density turns out to play a minor role.

It can be concluded that policies aimed at decreasing the digital divide should provide programs which encourage the Internet literacy of less qualified, unemployed, and older individuals. Furthermore, due to the existence of network effects, experienced users should be involved in public programs in order to motivate non-users by teaching them how to use the Internet and by showing them its advantages.

The research project is part of the doIT-regional programme initiated and commissioned by the Ministry of Food and Rural Area Baden-Wuerttemberg. For further information about the programme, please visit: www.doit-regional.de

Selected Publications

Discussion and Working Papers