Learning to Search and Searching to Learn: Income, Education and Experience Online

Using data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project surveys, this article explores changing trends in reported sophistication and satisfaction with search skills and with search engines. We find that the proportion of Internet users searching online for answers to specific questions—as opposed to casual browsing—has grown significantly. Moreover, as users get more experience online, they increasingly become dependent on search engines, confident in their findings, and savvy about how search engines structure information, privilege paid results, and track users. When other factors are controlled, years of online experience is a strong predictor of the likelihood of a person doing specific searches on a daily basis, and experience can have an even stronger positive effect than education and income. We also find that years of online experience, frequency of use, and sophistication with multiple search engines can overcome socio-economic status in predicting how active a person is in searching across different topics.

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Technology and Society
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International Affairs