While an estimated 104 million (56%) of all Americans now access the internet, the overwhelming bias is toward younger and wealthier white citizens.

A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project sampled 8,099 adults of eighteen years upward by telephone, the first group between May 2 and June 30, the second between November 22 and December 21.

The November/December figure of 104m online adults is 18.2% up on the earlier poll when 88 million (47%) of all adults claimed to have accessed the web. Of the current total using the web, a marginal numeric majority were women (50.6% as compared with 49.4% male). However, this is a statistical quirk as adult females outnumber males in the US and, viewed from a different angle, just 54% of women said they had gone online compared with 58% of men.

But the most noticeable gap remains that between the highest and lowest income groups - although the divide is narrowing. In households with an aggregated annual income exceeding $75,000 annually, 82% of the second sample claimed access to the internet. Among adults in households earning less than $30,000 a year, the figure plummeted to 38%, albeit that this is 10% higher than the May/June sampling.

The study also reveals an ethnic bias. Among the Nov/Dec sample, 57% of white adults said they had gone online; 47% of Hispanics claimed likewise; but only 43% of blacks. Nevertheless, these figures compare favourably with the earlier sample in which internet access was reported by only 40% of Hispanics and 35% of blacks.

But the largest imbalance of all remains that between younger and older surfers. Whereas access by adults in the 18-29 age group rose between the two sample periods from 61% to 75%, the 65-plus group rose only from 12% to 15%. Among 30 to 49-ers, usage rose from 57% to 65%; and 41% to 51% among adults 50-64.

Over half (52%) of all respondents said they had purchased a product over the internet and 45% had obtained financial information such as stock prices online. But only 14% claimed to have bought or sold stocks.

The Pew surveys have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points

News source: Wall Street Journal