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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 00-44 (NSB 00-130) - June 19, 2000

Media contact:

 Tom Garritano

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Marta Cehelsky

 (703) 292-7000

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Information Technology Indicators Reveal Complex Social Changes Underway
S&E Indicators 2000 points to transitions in the workplace and the household

Ownership of personal computers chart
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New information technologies (IT) are reshaping the U.S. work force and are now widely used in the home, but the adoption of IT varies greatly by industry, individual income level, ethnicity and geographic location, according to the National Science Board's (NSB) biennial report to the President, Science and Engineering Indicators 2000.

The NSB report on the status of science and engineering in the U.S. says that the growth of IT has been likened to the Industrial Revolution in terms of its potential scope and impact on society. But the growth comes with many questions about the distribution of knowledge, wealth and power among groups, and questions about impacts on IT-rich versus IT-poor groups in achieving wealth and getting access to quality education.

S & E Indicators 2000 reports that in the workplace, there is greatly increased computerization and productivity. But this has coincided with growing income disparities. From 1973 to 1995, wages increased in the top 30 percent of occupational income and decreased in the bottom 70 percent. Wages of low-skill workers may decline when IT-abled, high-skill workers absorb their tasks. But low-skill employees are also recognizing the need to broaden their knowledge and make their way into more technical positions.

The percentage of households with computers increased from 24 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 1998. Internet access in the home also increased from just two percent in 1994 to 26 percent in 1998. But households with computers and Internet access are more likely to be affluent and highly educated.

Although the percentage of African American households with computers increased from 11 percent in 1994 to 23 percent in 1998, the gap relative to white households increased by seven percent. About 25 percent of Hispanic households owned a computer as of 1998, compared to 12 percent in 1994. Rural households also show consistently low levels of home IT use. While disparity of access is related to many factors, the most common are income, education and occupation, according to a 1999 study by the National Technical Information Administration.

"Analyzing the overall impact of IT on society is still difficult because reliable data aren't often available. But the numbers we do have confirm that information technologies are profoundly changing America's work force and lifestyles," said Anita Jones, vice chair of the NSB. "Through IT research, we hope to maximize the positive effects -- such as increased productivity -- while mitigating negative ones, those we associate with the 'digital divide,' regarding access to computers and the Internet."

In other key areas, home computer use has remained steady at around 300 hours per year for an average user in the 1990s, but among all home computer users, the amount of time spent on the Internet increased more than tenfold between 1995 and 1999, rising from 15 hours per year to about 160. Adults who subscribe at home to on-line services reached 32 percent in 1999, almost doubling the 18 percent that had e-mail in 1997.

In K-12 public schools, Indicators reports that connections to the Internet have risen dramatically, from 35 percent in 1994 to 89 percent in 1998. And for the first time, about half of the instructional rooms in public schools had access to the Internet by 1998, almost doubling the total just one year earlier.

Many questions remain, however, about the effective use of these technologies in the classroom. Lack of teacher training and infrastructure support, and a rapidly changing technology environment that makes technology quickly obsolete all influence how much students improve their learning through IT.


See also:



National Science Foundation
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Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
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