The Story Behind The Numbers

Ethnicity plays little role in home computer purchasing

You’ve seen the numbers before: they tell us that PC use in African American households is frighteningly low in comparison with that of white households. In 1995, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch released,a report showing that 26.9% of white households had PCs, compared with 13.8% of African American households.

That same year, the National Telecommunications Information Administration published similar findings. The NTIA reported that over 28.1% of white households had PCs vs. 9.5% of African American households. Findings such as these, seized upon by the media, contribute to the perception that African Americans are not interested in, or even aware of, the benefits of the technology. As a result, many technology companies are reluctant to market their products to African Americans.

Neither the Census Bureau nor NTIA studies correlate the PC data with household income and other socioeconomic factors. However, a recent study by Quantum Electronic Database Services, a White Plains, New York, research firm, did just that. The 1996 survey found that households in similar income groups are also likely to have similar PC ownership patterns. As Q.E.D. Chairman Mitek J. Stevenson notes: “There is negligible impact of ethnicity on PC penetration.”

According to the Q.E.D. data, overall presence of PCs in African American households depends on four factors:

  • The PC ownership rate in that income class;
  • The number of households in each income class;
  • The education level at each income class; and
  • Household size and structure.

African American and white families with household incomes of $75,000 or more showed a nearly identical ownership rate (76.47% and 74.64%, respectively). Lower-income households ($15,000-$25,000) are less likely to have a home PC: 12% for African Americans and 24% for whites. The primary cause of the disparity, says Stevenson, is the higher predominance of lower-income African American households.

The high number of African American households at the lower end of the earnings spectrum obscures the similarities among income classes. Family size and education play a more significant role in the lower-income ranges. According to the survey, African Americans in the low-income range tend to have more children than their white counterparts, which makes it less likely that they can afford a luxury item such as a PC.

Larry Irving, the NTIA’s assistant secretary of information and communication, says the Q.E.D. findings are consistent with the research of his office and the Census Bureau. Though Q.E.D. highlights the factors behind the PC gap, “It doesn’t change the fact that African American PC use is still significantly lower than white Americans’,” Irving says. “But economic factors being equal, PC penetration would be about the same.”

Q.E.D.’s findings prove that African Americans shouldn’t be overlooked as technology consumers–because those who can afford Computers buy them.

THE PC GAP?

African Americans and whites with similar income share the likehood of owning a personal computer

Income

Whites

African Americans

$15,00 or Less

10.7%

12.0%

$15,000-$24,999

24.5

12.1

$25,000-$34,999

37.1

31.1

$35,000-$49,999

50.1

42.5

$50,000-$74,999

61.7

41.7

$75,000 or More

74.6

76.5

All Income Classes

40.2

26.0

Source: Q.E.D.

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