It used to be that we worried about lower-income, less educated people having insufficient Internet access. Educators, politicians and policy makers were concerned that in our great technological revolution, these folks were being left behind. Well, it turns out now that the digital haves may turn out to be the economic have-nots.
A recent report from the Brookings Institution looked at data from the American Time Use survey and concluded that less-educated Americans were spending more time on screens and less time on “active leisure” than their better-educated counterparts. Active leisure included things like socializing, reading, writing, art, sports and exercise. And while those things are associated with positive outcomes in health and general life satisfaction, screen time largely is not.
The authors run down a quick litany of the problems associated with screen time: “Prolonged time spent watching television is associated with poorer health, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Playing computer games, browsing the Internet and other forms of sedentary leisure may contribute to obesity. Such screen time is also associated with lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment among youth.”
The researchers acknowledge that “many of these impacts may not be due to the screen time itself, but to the lack of the activity that it displaces. More time spent in front of a screen inherently means less time doing other things.”
Wealthier, more educated parents are aware of the dangers of too much screen time and often try to restrict it, but lower income parents do not. The authors write that looking at these differences, there could be “implications for social mobility.”
But it’s not just time spent on screen that separates rich and poor. It’s also the content. A 2013 survey by Common Sense Media found that the percentage of kids whose parents had downloaded any educational app for them varied greatly by income. Only 35 percent of children in families making less than $30,000 a year had such apps, compared with 49 percent of kids in the $35,000 to $75,000 category and 75 percent of families making over $75,000 a year.