Exploring Privilege in the Digital Divide: Implications for Theory, Policy, and Practice

Mei Lan  Fang, Sarah L. Canham, Lupin Battersby, Judith Sixsmith, Mineko  Wada, Andrew Sixsmith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
405 Downloads (Pure)


Background and Objectives: The digital revolution has resulted in innovative solutions and technologies that can support the well-being, independence, and health of seniors. Yet, the notion of the “digital divide” presents significant inequities in terms of who accesses and benefits from the digital landscape. To better understand the social and structural inequities of the digital divide, a realist synthesis was conducted to: inform theoretical understandings of information and communication technologies (ICTs); understand the practicalities of access and use inequities; uncover practices that facilitate digital literacy and participation; and recommend policies to mitigate the digital divide.

Research Design and Methods : A systematic search yielded 55 articles published between 2006 and 2016. Synthesis of existing knowledge, combined with user-experience elicited through a deliberative dialogue session with community stakeholders (n=35), made visible a pattern of privilege that determined individual agency in ICT access and use.

Results: Though age is consistently centralized as the key determinant of the digital divide, our analyses, which encompassed both van Dijk’s resources and appropriation theory and intersectionality, appraised this notion and revealed that age is not the sole determinant. Findings highlight the role of other factors that contribute to digital inequity among community-dwelling middle-aged (45-64) and older (65+) adults, including education, income, gender, and generational status.

Discussion and Implications: Informed by results of a realist synthesis that was guided by intersectional perspectives, a conceptual framework was developed outlining implications for theory, policy, and practice to address the wicked problem that is the digital divide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1-e15
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Early online date10 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Access and Utilization of Services
  • Digital Divide
  • Public Policy
  • Quality of Life
  • Realist Synthesis
  • Social Roles and Social Factors
  • Technology
  • Theory

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