UCI News

UCI professor finds new digital divide threatening well-being of low-income teens

Research shows that while online access is now nearly equal, experiences are not

February 21, 2018
UCI professor finds new digital divide threatening well-being of low-income teens
“In the past 25 years, income inequality and the opportunity gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers have been growing. The former have less access to resources and lower levels of adult investment,” says Candice Odgers, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior. “It would be disastrous for many to see this gap replicated in the online world.” Courtesy of the School of Social Ecology

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 21, 2018 — In one sense, the digital divide between teenagers from different socio-economic backgrounds is narrowing: All increasingly have access to technologies such as smartphones and computers. But a new digital divide appears to be emerging over the types of experiences these teens have online, according to a University of California, Irvine researcher.

Candice Odgers, professor of psychology & social behavior, analyzed data from various existing studies and published her findings in an online commentary for the journal Nature.

In a 2015 survey – conducted as part of the Research on Adaptive Interests, Skills & Environments study by Odgers and colleagues – 10- to 15-year-olds reported high levels of regular internet access regardless of family income: 92 percent for those from economically disadvantaged homes and 97 percent for their more affluent peers. The gap in smartphone ownership is even smaller, at 65 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

“The digital divide is now arising from the different types of online experiences young people are having,” Odgers said. “The evidence so far suggests that smartphones may serve as mirrors reflecting problems teens already have. Those from low-income families said that social media experiences more frequently spilled over into real life, causing more offline fights and problems at school.”

Other studies reviewed by Odgers indicated the need for additional support from parents, schools or other community organizations for adolescents from economically disadvantaged households, who are more likely to be bullied, solicited and victimized in cyberspace. They also usually have less parental mediation, guidance and supervision of their online activities.

“The majority of young people appear to be doing well in the digital age, and many are thriving with the new opportunities that electronic media provides. But those who are already struggling offline need our help online too,” Odgers said. “Strategies that encourage parental involvement – as well as partnerships between local governments, technology companies and educational institutions – are key to ensuring that all young people, including the most vulnerable, have positive online experiences.”

The RAISE study received funding from Duke University’s Center for the Study of Adolescent Risk & Resilience, a National Institute on Drug Abuse Core Center of Excellence (P30DA023026). Further support was provided by the Jacobs Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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