IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Research Note---Social Interactions and the “Digital Divide”: Explaining Variations in Internet Use


  • Ritu Agarwal

    () (Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742)

  • Animesh Animesh

    () (Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1G5, Canada)

  • Kislaya Prasad

    () (Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742)


Given the increasingly important role of the Internet in education, healthcare, and other essential services, it is important that we develop an understanding of the “digital divide.” Despite the widespread diffusion of the Web and related technologies, pockets remain where the Internet is used sparingly, if at all. There are large geographic variations, as well as variations across ethnic and racial lines. Prior research suggests that individual, household, and regional differences are responsible for this disparity. We argue for an alternative explanation: Individual choice is subject to social influence (“peer effects”) that emanates from geographic proximity; this influence is the cause of the excess variation. We test this assertion with empirical analysis of a data set compiled from a number of sources. We find, first, that widespread Internet use among people who live in proximity has a direct effect on an individual's propensity to go online. Using data on residential segregation, we test the proposition that the Internet usage patterns of people who live in more ethnically isolated regions will more closely resemble usage patterns of their ethnic group. Finally, we examine the moderating impact of housing density and directly measured social interactions on the relationship between Internet use and peer effects. Results are consistent across analyses and provide strong evidence of peer effects, suggesting that individual Internet use is influenced by local patterns of usage. Implications for public policy and the diffusion of the Internet are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Ritu Agarwal & Animesh Animesh & Kislaya Prasad, 2009. "Research Note---Social Interactions and the “Digital Divide”: Explaining Variations in Internet Use," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 20(2), pages 277-294, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:orisre:v:20:y:2009:i:2:p:277-294

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & José A. Scheinkman, 1996. "Crime and Social Interactions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 507-548.
    2. Brueckner, Jan K. & Largey, Ann G., 2008. "Social interaction and urban sprawl," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 18-34, July.
    3. Joshua D. Angrist & Kevin Lang, 2004. "Does School Integration Generate Peer Effects? Evidence from Boston's Metco Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1613-1634, December.
    4. Goolsbee, Austan & Klenow, Peter J, 2002. "Evidence on Learning and Network Externalities in the Diffusion of Home Computers," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 317-343, October.
    5. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
    6. Duflo, Esther & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "Participation and investment decisions in a retirement plan: the influence of colleagues' choices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(1), pages 121-148, July.
    7. Giorgio Topa, 2001. "Social Interactions, Local Spillovers and Unemployment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(2), pages 261-295.
    8. Charles F. Manski, 1993. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: The Reflection Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(3), pages 531-542.
    9. Siu-cheung Chan & Ming-te Lu, 2004. "Understanding Internet Banking Adoption and Use Behavior: A Hong Kong Perspective," Journal of Global Information Management (JGIM), IGI Global, vol. 12(3), pages 21-43, July.
    10. Jeffrey Rohlfs, 1974. "A Theory of Interdependent Demand for a Communications Service," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 5(1), pages 16-37, Spring.
    11. Bradford F. Mills & Brian E. Whitacre, 2003. "Understanding the Non‐Metropolitan—Metropolitan Digital Divide," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(2), pages 219-243, June.
    12. Munshi, Kaivan, 2004. "Social learning in a heterogeneous population: technology diffusion in the Indian Green Revolution," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 185-213, February.
    13. James J. Heckman, 2000. "Causal Parameters and Policy Analysis in Economics: A Twentieth Century Retrospective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(1), pages 45-97.
    14. H. Peyton Young & Mary A. Burke, 2001. "Competition and Custom in Economic Contracts: A Case Study of Illinois Agriculture," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 559-573, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:respol:v:47:y:2018:i:6:p:1125-1132 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Sriram Thirumalai & Kingshuk K. Sinha, 2013. "To Personalize or Not to Personalize Online Purchase Interactions: Implications of Self-Selection by Retailers," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 24(3), pages 683-708, September.
    3. Pradeep Racherla & Munir Mandviwalla, 2013. "Moving from Access to Use of the Information Infrastructure: A Multilevel Sociotechnical Framework," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 24(3), pages 709-730, September.
    4. Claussen, Jörg & Kretschmer, Tobias & Mayrhofer, Philip, 2010. "Incentives for Quality over Time – The Case of Facebook Applications," Discussion Papers in Business Administration 12500, University of Munich, Munich School of Management.
    5. repec:spr:manrev:v:68:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11301-017-0133-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:wfo:wstudy:61633 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Kai-Lung Hui & I. P. L. Png, 2015. "Research Note—Migration of Service to the Internet: Evidence from a Federal Natural Experiment," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 26(3), pages 606-618, September.
    8. Fulvio Castellacci & Henrik Schwabe, 2018. "Internet Use and the U-shaped relationship between Age and Well-being," Working Papers on Innovation Studies 20180215, Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:inm:orisre:v:20:y:2009:i:2:p:277-294. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Matthew Walls). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.