Just How Accurate is That Web Survey?

2593182335_5c2b854ee3_oOnline surveys are the backbone of everything from tech reporting to political deal-making, but have you ever wondered whether the survey group matches the population?

I've always wondered, and now thanks to the Pew Research Center we have an answer, just not one that you will like.

Yesterday Pew published the results of a study which looked at past surveys conducted both online and off, and contrasted the different answers given for online respondents vs those who asked to get a copy of the survey in the mail.

According to Pew, around 18% of the survey responses were completed on paper. After collating the results of 406 questions asked in surveys spread over  15 months, Pew found that those who fill out the paper survey by mail tended to be older, single, less well educated, and earned less than those that answered the survey online.

Virtually all (90%) of the offline respondents were over the age of 50. Half had a HS diploma or less (compared to 18% of the overall group), and 42% earned less than $20,000 a year (vs 14% of the overall group). The offline respondents were also twice as likely to live alone (44% vs 20% overall). And finally, those who fill out the paper survey by mail were also twice as likely to be black (16%, vs 7% overall).

Pew's study found that the offline respondents were less likely to use the internet regularly or even have a computer, tablet, or smartphone:

pew digital divide

To put it simply, Pew has demonstrated the existence of the digital divide, the social and economic problem resulting from poorer and less well-educated members of our society lacking the same access to computers and the web as you or I.

This, folks, is why many argue that we need well-funded libraries and tech in schools. The modern library has long been viewed as a way for the common man to improve himself, and in the 21st century that means giving the populace access to tech and other resources that not all can afford on their own.

As David Rothman would remind us, it's not just the gadgetry, but also access to all the information available online: medical, technical, educational, and financial. The fact that so many don't have access is the most important detail in this study, and not whether someone got on Facebook yesterday, IMO.

image by hildgrim

About Nate Hoffelder (11471 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

1 Comment on Just How Accurate is That Web Survey?

  1. Smart Debut Author // 24 September, 2015 at 8:39 pm // Reply

    Yep, that pretty much sums up the recent Authors Guild survey.

    The digital divide clearly applies in publishing, too.

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