Today's typical online consumer is a significant departure from the first-generation Web user of the early 1990s, which consisted largely of so-called "computer geeks"-predominantly males between 20 and 30 years old, who were drawn to the Web for its freedom to explore and its no-rules structure.The Internet has gradually attracted more mature, mainstream users who have expressed an interest in Web sites that enable them to carry out basic everyday tasks. Middle-class consumers continue to be the core Web users for one simple reason: This constituency has been granted "unfair access to the Internet, which mirrors the socioeconomic divisions in society," according to a report conducted by Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup Inc.
"Those who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage due to lower education levels and incomes are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to having Internet access," according to the report, "The Digital Divide and American Society."
Despite a booming economy, lower PC costs and phenomenal growth in the Internet, "there is still a digital divide" in the United States, the report states. Currently, GartnerGroup statistics indicate that 35% of Americans of lower socioeconomic status have Internet access, compared with 53% in the lower middle, 79% in the upper middle and 83% in the upper group.
Consumers in the lower socioeconomic group who have gained Internet access are faced with yet another obstacle. Because nearly half (47%) of them have only been regular Web users since early 1999, they're still in the throes of what GartnerGroup analysts call an "experience-based digital divide."
Therefore, until more consumers on the lower socioeconomic wrung get up to speed on the Internet, it's anticipated that insurance carriers will continue to map out a Web blueprint that's skewed decidedly toward the middle-class consumer.
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