Essays on the digital divide

Belal M. T Abdelfattah, University of Texas at El Paso


The digital divide is a phenomenon that is globally persistent, despite rapidly decreasing costs in technology. While much of the variance in the adoption and use of information communication technology (ICT) that defines the digital divide can be explained by socioeconomic and demographic variables, there is still significant unaccounted variance that needs to be explained if the world's population is expected to be brought more fully into the digital age. The present research addresses this need with three cross-country studies. Study 1 primarily investigates the time individuals spend with traditional media sources as a likely explanation for their frequency of internet access and use across multiple time periods. Study 2 explores the influence of Schwartz-like human values on individuals' frequency of personal computer use and Study 3 employs gender attitudes as a predictor of PC use behavior across countries that vary in the cultural dimension of gender egalitarianism. Overall, analyses in each study reveal varying support of the proposed hypotheses. Each study is approached with a multinational perspective and is theoretically justified and tested empirically at an individual-level. In Study 1, the displacement hypotheses is adopted from the mass communication literature to rationalize how traditional media systems associate with internet access and use. Also the knowledge gap hypothesis is utilized to explain why the predictors that are commonly tested in empirical digital divide research can logically explain disparities in ICT adoption and use. In addition, Study 1 tests whether the predictive power of common digital divide variables holds across eleven nations and five time periods. I used data from the European Social Survey, which measures individual attitudes, beliefs, and behavioral patterns in more than 30 countries every two years starting in 2001. Results from Study 1 provide empirical support for socioeconomic status and age as predictors of ICT access and use disparities across countries and time periods. The number of countries with a significant and negative association between age and internet use was consistent across time periods but there was an increase in the number of countries with a significant and positive association between age and traditional media system use in the same time periods. Gender and use of traditional media sources were found to contribute to both access and use divides; however, their association with ICT access and use decreased across time periods. In Study 2, the theoretical framework and methodology of Johnson and Jackson (2009) was utilized to factor analyze data from the World Values Survey (WVS) that captures the universal human values developed by Schwartz (1992). The confirmatory factor analysis resulted in a two-factor measurement model that was used to examine how each factor--interdependent values and independent values--associates with citizens' personal computer use behavior across seven countries. For most nations, the assertions put forth in this study that citizens who associate more with interdependent values are less likely to be frequent PC users and those who associate with independent values are more likely to be frequent PC users were partially supported. For Study 3, biosocial theory from social psychology was adopted to propose a possible explanation for the disparities of ICT use behavior between males and females. It was posited that disparities in PC use behavior by gender is associated with traditional gender attitudes. To begin, data from the World Values Survey that captures gender attitudes was analyzed to develop a single factor of citizens' attitudes towards traditional gender roles. Second, three sample countries were selected using House et al.'s (2004) GLOBE Project's rank of nations based on gender egalitarianism scores to test the hypothesized model. The analysis provides support for the tenet that disparities in PC use behavior vary as a function of citizens' gender attitudes when compared across countries with different gender egalitarian culture scores. More specifically, results indicate that traditional gender attitudes may be partially responsible for the gender divide. Each study provides a discussion and concludes with limitations, contributions, and future research directions.^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Information Technology|Information Science

Recommended Citation

Abdelfattah, Belal M. T, "Essays on the digital divide" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3610094.