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Barriers to Internet use among households in poverty: A literature review

What barriers do households in poverty experience when using the internet? And what outcomes might they miss out on as a result? These questions were central to a literature study about which a scientific article was recently published. In this blog article by Lilian Boerkamp you will find a brief overview of the findings. Do you want to know more? Then read on!

Poverty and internet use
Research shows that not everyone benefits from the Internet equally. Unfortunately, the risk of being digitally excluded is significantly higher for households in poverty than for more affluent families. This can reinforce existing inequalities in society. It is therefore important to know what obstacles households in poverty experience when using the internet. These barriers can occur in several areas, which the publication divides into four categories: motivation, access, skills and use. To successfully promote digital inclusion, it is important to pay attention to tackling obstacles in all these categories: for example, when someone is provided with a laptop (access), but does not know how to use it (skills), or is anxious is to use it (motivation), obstacles will continue to exist.

The publication in the scientific journal SAGE Open contains an analysis of systematically searched articles, of research worldwide, at the intersection of poverty and digital inclusion. The barriers and outcomes found regarding internet use are categorized and documented. In addition, an extensive report has been provided on the theory, method and all results. We would like to give you a summary of the findings in this blog article.

Obstacles in internet use
In terms of motivation, several barriers emerged in the literature. An example of this is that many families in poverty have other priorities. Consider the care of children. A fear of using the internet, or technology in general, also plays a role. When we look at access, several obstacles can be identified. For example, not having a computer at home, having to share devices with family members, or having outdated or unreliable equipment. The costs of devices and services are also a direct barrier to purchase. In the context of skills, low literacy plays a major role, as do language barriers experienced by people with a migration background who do not speak the language sufficiently. Limited skills are also sometimes evident in terms of critically assessing information online, or navigating the internet. Unfortunately, the literature shows that quality help with the internet is not always available in the immediate area. Finally, the obstacles to use. It can be seen that these are often the result of obstacles in the other three categories. For example, limited access to devices leads to limited use of the internet for finding new work or health information. Or does fear of using the internet lead to limited use of the functionalities that the internet offers.

Outcomes of Internet use
In addition to the perceived obstacles, the research has mapped out the outcomes of internet use. Unfortunately, the literature confirms that households in poverty do not always take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the internet. For example, research shows that internet use could lead to finding a new job, better school results, acquiring new knowledge, or reducing fear of using the internet – outcomes that are unfortunately not expected by the households at the center of the studies. were not always achieved. Naturally, perceived obstacles or unachieved outcomes are different for everyone. When it comes to appropriate digital inclusion support, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach. This underlines the need to take into account which barriers exist for which households, support them in this, and thus facilitate them as best as possible to benefit from the internet.

Future research
This literature study formed the starting point of the Digital Inclusion and Poverty research project. Although this literature study focuses on insights worldwide, the research process will further focus on the Dutch context. Interviews have therefore now taken place with social workers and households experiencing poverty to further identify needs with regard to digital support. In addition, we prepare co-creation sessions to translate the insights gained into actual support. We would like to inform you of the results as soon as the reports have been published. Therefore, be sure to keep an eye on this website to stay informed.

Would you like to know more about the research project? Please contact Alexander van Deursen or Lilian Boerkamp.