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What is New in the Digital Divide? Understanding Internet Use by Teenagers from Different Social Backgrounds

Communication and Information Technologies Annual

ISBN: 978-1-78560-381-5, eISBN: 978-1-78560-380-8

Publication date: 12 December 2015



In recent times the relationship between social stratification and internet use has become more complex. In order to understand the new configuration of the digital divide, this paper examines the relationship between socioeconomic background and digital engagement among youths.


This study explores digital inequalities among Italian teenagers from a holistic perspective. It draws on primary data obtained with a triangulation of methods: a survey on a representative sample of 2,025 high school students and 56 semi-structured interviews with teenagers from different social classes.


The statistical models indicate that cultural capital and parents’ occupational status do not associate with broader social media use but are positively related with online information-seeking. The interpretative analysis suggests that teenagers from the upper-middle class make sense of the internet “vertically,” in affiliation with parental socialization, and are more concerned with capital enhancing activities. Instead, teenagers from less advantageous social contexts appropriate the internet “horizontally,” jointly with peers, and are mostly interested in social-networking and UGC production.

Practical implications

School track, along with parents’ socioeconomic status and cultural capital, influences teenagers’ internet use. Further studies could explore whether school tracking contributes to digital inequalities.


The study extends Annette Lareau’s theory of parenting styles and social reproduction, but also obtains innovative results related to digital inequalities among youth. Contrary to expectations, teenagers from less advantageous social backgrounds enrolled in vocational schools have better chances to actively participate in social media than teens from the upper-middle class in academic-oriented high schools.




The survey was possible thanks to financial support from “Regione Lombardia” – European Social Fund. I would like to thank Marco Gui (survey’s coordinator), Gianluca Argentin, Brunella Fiore, Giovanna Mascheroni, and the Department of Sociology and Social Research at Milano-Bicocca University for the work in the survey. I am also grateful to the editors and reviewers for their valuable recommendations. Finally I would like to thank the teenagers who participated in this study.


Micheli, M. (2015), "What is New in the Digital Divide? Understanding Internet Use by Teenagers from Different Social Backgrounds", Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 10), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 55-87.



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