A new survey of teenagers reveals that children from poorer households use the internet more than those from richer homes, upending a common assumption about our online lives.
In addition, richer kids use the internet in a more productive way, spending significantly more of their time looking up educational material and things like How To videos.
That's just one of the conclusion of a wide-ranging survey of the so-called Generation Z carried out by monster UK research firm Ipsos Mori. The company summarizes its findings in a 91-page report [PDF] called "Beyond Binary - The lives and choices of Generation Z."
The finding that children from wealthier backgrounds go online less may seem counter-intuitive but has been repeatedly noted in research and articles about the wealthiest and most tech-savvy parents on the planet – those living in Silicon Valley.
Schools in the hometowns of Facebook, Twitter, Google et al often adopt a consciously low-tech approach in favor of more traditional teaching methods – and tech execs pay handsomely for the privilege.
In fact, the Ipsos report is notable for the number of stereotypes about the younger generation that it knocks down. The received wisdom that teenagers have a lower attention span than previous generations, but when researchers dug into the issue they were unable to find any evidence that was really the case.
They also found that, contrary to seemingly endless articles, the death of Facebook among the younger generation has been greatly exaggerated. Kids still use the monster social media service, it forms just one part of a broader use of multiple platforms.
There are some widely accepted aspects of Generation Z that do turn out to be true however: they watch far less television, preferring instead to use their phones and tablets to jump between content using services like YouTube.
Kids and the web latest: 'Won't somebody please think of the children!' US Congresscritters pleadREAD MORE
They listen far less to the radio, preferring streaming music and listening to podcasts instead. They are also far more comfortable with the concept of gender fluidity i.e. not viewing everyone as a man, or a woman – hence the title of the report: Beyond Binary.
They also drink alcohol far less than older generations: just 36 per cent of children aged 13-15 have tried alcohol, compared to 72 per cent of the previous generation when they were their age.
But back to tech.
Generation Z – which is defined as anyone born after 1996 i.e. 22 and under - are hyper-connected. Despite the definition, Ipsos focuses primarily on children aged 5-15. It's worth noting that Ipsos calls out generational research as often being poor because it is typically geared toward creating snappy headlines and fails to account for both broader societal shifts and the fact that people's views typically change over time.
That said, 96 per cent of 5-15 year olds in the UK have access to the internet at home; 49 per cent have their own tablet and 46 per cent have their own smartphone. This makes them the most connected group in society.
When it comes to household income, the figures shift in that kids in poorer households are less likely to own tablets and laptops – but not by a huge amount (80 per cent compared to 86 per cent for tablets; 72 versus 83 per cent for laptops; 42 versus 49 per cent for smartphones).
But difference in the time spent online is significant. Children aged 5-15 in poorer households spend, on average, 17 hours online per week; in richer households, 13 hours 42 minutes.
And the richer kids spent much more time on educational content: 48 per cent of them watch How To videos and tutorials compared to 32 per cent of lower-income households. The same pattern is observed with news: 43 versus 30 per cent; and with "news updates": 78 versus 61 per cent.
One metric used by Ipsos to see what impact this may have was whether children had heard of "fake news". In richer households, 81 per cent said yes; in poorer households, just 64 per cent. In other words, richer kids are getting more out of their time online.
Why the disparity? The researchers reckon it stems from parents. "As with so much to do with educational outcomes, the impact of familial abilities and habits seems key. For example, a recent study looking at digital skills amongst all adults highlighted that 91 per cent of better-off adults claimed to have basic digital skills, compared with 62 per cent of poorer adults."
Those skills include the ability to digitally manage information and well as communicate and problem solve. As a result, the parents are less able to pass on these skills to their children and it passes down to the next generation.
The report covers a wide range of other topics and issues so if this topics interests you, it is worth reading in full.
But very, very broadly, the impact of internet technology has some definite pluses and definite minuses. The younger generation communicate much more but exercise far less. They are more informed but more anxious. They are more trusting but also more willing to take risks.
But, yes, being rich is – as ever – healthier than being poor. ®