Swinburne study measures Australia’s digital divide

Wednesday 24 August 2016

hand holding ipad

Digital ability is emerging as a key area for national improvement and a barrier to Australians maximising the benefits of being online.

In summary

  • Most detailed snapshot yet of online participation in Australia
  • Reveals digital ability is a key barrier for people to connect online
  • Study undertaken with Telstra and Roy Morgan Research

The release of the first Australian Digital Inclusion Index shows that while digital inclusion is improving, digital ability – which includes basic online skills – is emerging as a key barrier for some people to connect and maximise the benefits of online participation.

The research, undertaken by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research and the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne, in partnership with Telstra and Roy Morgan Research, provides the most detailed snapshot yet of online participation throughout Australia.

Digital inclusion is about ensuring everyone is able to access and use digital technologies, and to take advantage of the educational, health, social and financial benefits of being connected.

Swinburne Vice-Chancellor Professor Linda Kristjanson says the index will make a major contribution to our understanding of the digital divide, and our capacity to address it.

“A digital divide exists in Australia, and with it comes the risk of deepening social, economic, and cultural inequalities. As digital technologies become ever-more central to public and private life, the disadvantages of not being connected increase.”

The Index contains data from the last three years, measuring digital inclusion by examining three areas: access, affordability and digital ability.

Key findings

  • Digital inclusion overall is improving across Australia, and people are spending more time online and doing more online.
  • Digital ability is emerging as a key area for national improvement and a barrier to Australians maximising the benefits of being online.
  • Across the nation, digital inclusion follows some clear economic and social contours. In general, Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are significantly less digitally included.
  • Affordability results show that while the value of online services is improving, people are spending an increasing proportion of household income on digital products.
  • Geographical disparities exist across Australia, with some areas showing higher digital inclusion than others, including capital cities.

Understanding the drivers of digital inclusion

Professor Jo Barraket, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne, says the index sets an important foundation measurement for digital inclusion in Australia.

“The Australian Digital Inclusion Index is a powerful tool that will help us understand the drivers of digital inclusion and exclusion in Australia. Overall, the Index shows that digital inclusion is growing in Australia – however inclusion is uneven and there are many Australians who are missing out on the social, heath and financial benefits of being online,” Professor Barraket says.

“For example, the Index reveals that infrastructure alone doesn’t necessarily equal access and inclusion. Digital ability – which includes online skills, attitudes and knowledge – is emerging as a key impediment to inclusion. This is particularly true for some groups, including people with disabilities, and those on low incomes.

“This data source will now provide more information for the public, private and community sectors to better inform strategies and programs working to improve digital inclusion in Australia. It is a longitudinal resource, which allows us to collectively reflect on our progress over time,” Professor Barraket says.

Telstra’s Chief Sustainability Officer Tim O’Leary said that with a fast growing number of services moving exclusively online, no Australian should get left behind.

 “We commissioned this research because digital inclusion is a social justice issue facing policy makers, businesses and communities worldwide. The index provides vital data to drive not just our own digital inclusion strategies – but those of our community and government partners.”

The Index is based on data from Roy Morgan Research, obtained from their ongoing, weekly Single Source survey of 50,000 Australians.

View the Australia Digital Inclusion Index Report.