Digital divide notion more rhetoric than reality

In recent years, it has become fashionable to decry the so-called "digital divide" – the notion that the poor were destined to fall behind wealthier people in computer skills, because they couldn't afford computers and proper training. But experts say evidence to support this theory is lacking.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau finds that in America any such gap is rapidly closing. And experts point out that many computer skills aren't especially high-tech or demanding – meaning that point-and-click technology is easy for many a novice.

A new study by economists David Card at the University of California at Berkeley and John DiNardo of the University of Michigan further discredits the digital divide theory.

  • They contend that "the rise in U.S. wage inequality in the last quarter of the 20th century" can't be attributed to computerisation – and they come up with much detailed evidence to support their conclusion.

  • Factors other than the computer explain the growing wage gap – the deep 1981-82 recession, which led to temporary high unemployment among the less skilled and allowed employers to hold down wage hikes, being one.

  • The introduction of computers and computer training in schools has equalised opportunities for students from both rich and poor homes to participate in high tech.

    Meanwhile, education specialists say basic reading and reasoning abilities are more important – and are the very skills needed to read computer manuals and follow instructions.

    Computers never were the source of anyone's poverty and, as for escaping, what people do for themselves matters more than what technology can do for them.

    Source: Robert J. Samuelson, Debunking the Digital Divide, Washington Post, March 20, 2002; see also David Card and John DiNardo, "Skill Biased Technological Change and Rising Wage Inequality: Some Problems and Puzzles," NBER Working Paper No.w8769, February 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin\26 March 2002
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