Digitalization in China: who’s left behind?

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


In an age of digitalization, who still refuses to use digital technology? Drawing on nationally-representative Chinese General Social Survey data, this article finds that about half of Chinese households do not actively use the Internet or e-payment systems, despite their ubiquity. This article estimates the effects of socioeconomic resources on these technologies’ (non-)use across urban, resident but previously urban, resident but previously rural, and rural hukou household registrations in China. Educational attainment is associated with higher odds of use among rural hukou, but the size of this effect is nearly double compared to urban hukou. Additionally, being female increases the odds of use among urban and resident but previously urban hukou, and lowers the odds of use in rural hukou, but which are attenuated by the mediating effects of education. The results give credence to education as a direct and indirect mechanism for digital skills development, especially for rural households. Individuals proximal to rural living conditions have fewer opportunities to learn about digital technology, resulting in greater dependency on education as a rare source of skills training. Simultaneously, education indirectly creates opportunities for women to learn digital skills by improving chances for higher-status job participation that require information management skills, especially in rural regions where traditional cultural norms constrain opportunities for upward mobility. Ultimately, digital technology non-use is traced not to lack of interest, but to lack of skills development opportunities among the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2023


  • China
  • digital technology use
  • inequality
  • rural-urban divide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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