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The Internet in Britain, 2011: Topline Findings from the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS)

Published on
16 Oct 2011
Topline findings from the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) 2011 Report: "Next Generation Users: The Internet in Britain 2011", presenting data on British access, use and attitudes to the Internet 2003-2011.

These are the topline findings from the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) 2011 Report: “Next Generation Users: The Internet in Britain 2011” (PDF, 3.1MB), presenting data on British access, use and attitudes to the Internet 2003-2011.

Launched in 2003 by the Oxford Internet Institute, the Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS) are an authoritative source of information about Internet access, use and attitudes. Surveys have been undertaken in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 of nationally representative random samples of 2000 people in the UK.

Internet Adoption and Use

There has been a slight increase in Internet use across all levels of income. The Internet is now used by 73% of the British population, up from 70% in 2009.

Social Networking

Use of social networking sites represents the single largest increase in Internet use in the last two years.

  • 60% of British Internet users use online social networking sites, up from 49% in 2009, and 17% in 2007.
  • Use of social networking by people under 25 has stabilized at around 90%.
  • Almost all the growth in social networking since 2009 has been among employed people aged 25-55 – uniformly, about 15% growth since 2009.
  • 61% of Internet users in 2011 “mainly” use search engines to find information: a 3% decline since 2009, possibly reflecting people using links on social network sites as entry points.

Internet Use and Gender

The gender divide with respect to Internet adoption has effectively disappeared; however there are still clear differences in attitudes and use.

  • The gender divide continues to decrease, with men and women now only separated by two percentage points (74% of British men are Internet users, vs 72% women), down from nine percentage points in 2003 (64% men, vs 55% women).
  • Women participate in social networking more than men (63% of female Internet users vs 57% of male Internet users).
  • Men are more confident in their technology skills than women. 31% of British women report being nervous when using technologies because they “might break something”, compared with 16% of British men.
  • Women are more likely to meet an online acquaintance face-to-face than men (of people who met online acquaintances offline, 59% were women vs 53% men). This is the reverse of 2009 when men were more likely to meet online acquaintances face-to-face.

Government and Politics

Use of online government services overall has been rising steadily since 2005, but use of specific services is remarkably low. Online participation in the political process is also low, despite the 2010 national election.

  • 57% of British Internet users have used at least one online government service in the past year.
  • Relatively few people use any particular online government service, such as paying Council tax or fines online (24% of Internet users), central Government taxes or fines (21%), or looking for information on Government policy (18%), or information on an MP or politician (15%).
  • The most frequent online political activity continues to be signing a petition (14% of Internet users signed an online petition in 2011, 18% signed one offline). 9% of Internet users have sent an electronic message supporting a political cause in the last year, and 9% have commented on politics in social media.

Internet Non-use

While 27% of British people do not use the Internet, proxy use remains a very important link to the Internet for non-users: a point often lost in public discussions over Internet use.

  • 27% of British people do not use the Internet.
  • 23% of British people have never used the Internet. This proportion has declined from 35% in 2003.
  • 4% of British people are ex-users: this proportion has been stable since 2003.
  • 44% of non-users “definitely know” someone they could ask for help with the Internet, for example to send an email; however, 17% of non-users “definitely don’t” know someone who could help them.

Reasons for Non-use

While there is no single stated reason for not using the Internet – reasons are multiple and interrelated – the most striking result is the continuous steady rise in the proportion of ex-users who say the Internet is too expensive.

  • Ex-Internet users are most likely to say they have stopped using the Internet because it is too expensive (62%), that a computer is no longer available (52%), or that they aren’t interested (39%).
  • Non-users say are most likely to say they don’t use the Internet because they have no interest (62%), or that it is not for people like them (12%). This has important policy implications, because providing subsidized or low-cost access to the Internet may not be enough to get these people online.

Digital Divides: Education, Disability, Income, Lifestage, Age

Age, education, occupation and income continue to divide users, with the young, the wealthy and well-educated continuing to be the most engaged online.

  • Non-users are more likely to express fears about the Internet or technology; making the digital divide very difficult to bridge. 54% of non-users fear they “might break” new technologies, compared with 18% of first generation users, and 7% of next generation users.
  • People with no educational qualifications are much less likely to be Internet users (31% are Internet users), than those with basic (80%), further (79%), or higher education (91% are Internet users).
  • People with disabilities are about half as likely to use the Internet as people without disabilities (41% vs 78% are Internet users).
  • People with higher household income are more likely to use the Internet. 99% of people with household incomes exceeding £40,000 are Internet users, compared with 65% for incomes of £12,000-£20,000, and only 43% of those with household incomes of less than £12,500.
  • Retired people are much less likely to use the Internet (37% of retired people) than students (99%) or employed people (87%).
  • Young people are much more likely to use the Internet than older people. 99% of people aged 14-17 are Internet users, compared with 80% of people aged between 45-54, and only 33% of people aged over 65.