How Canadians' Use of the Internet Affects Social Life and Civic Participation

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by Ben Veenhof, Barry Wellman, Carsten Quell and Bernie Hogan [About the authors]

Note to readers

This study uses data from several Statistics Canada surveys as well as the Connected Lives surveys conducted in the East York area of Toronto and in Chapleau, Ontario by NetLab, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.  The different sources used in this study cover different questions and concepts, and also differ in terms of coverage (sample used and reference periods).  These differences should be kept in mind when examining data from different sources. 

The Statistics Canada data used in this study come from five different sources:  the Canadian Internet Use Survey (2005, 2007), General Social Surveys on time use (2005) and social engagement (2003), the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (2004), and the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (2003). 

Statistics Canada's 2007 Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS) was conducted in October and November 2007, and the sample covered more than 26,000 Canadians aged 16 years and over living in the ten provinces. The 2005 CIUS was conducted in November 2005 and more than 30,000 interviews were completed with adults aged 18 and over. Caution should be used comparing results from the 2005 and 2007 surveys, as the target population was extended in 2007 to include persons aged 16 and 17 in the sample. Responses are based on individuals' use of the Internet over the 12 month period preceding the survey. This study uses results from this survey to analyze Internet activities of Canadian adults based on their socio-demographic characteristics. This study also analyzes results from the social cohesion module of the 2005 survey, which have not yet been published elsewhere. Please see CIUS for more information.

Two of the other sources used in this study come from separate cycles of Statistics Canada's General Social Survey (GSS):  Cycle 19 (time use) is based on 2005 data and Cycle 17 (social engagement) is from 2003.  Both surveys targeted Canadians aged 15 and over, living in the ten provinces.  Approximately 25,000 Canadians completed the social engagement survey, and the 2005 time use survey yielded just under 20,000 responses.  The latest cycle of the GSS (Cycle 22) covers social networks and is planned for a 2009 release. For more information, see Cycle 22. Detailed information for the GSS on time use is available at Cycle 19.

This study also uses Statistics Canada data from the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP) to understand Canadians' use of the Internet as a tool for finding and engaging in volunteering activities.  The 2004 CSGVP sample covered over 22,000 Canadians aged 15 and over living in the provinces and territories. See CSGVPfor additional details.

Data from the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), conducted by Statistics Canada and the OECD, were also included in parts of this study.  This survey included a module on respondents' use of information and communications technologies.  For the purposes of this study, analysis is based on a representative sample of approximately 20,000 Canadians aged 16 to 65 living in the provinces and territories. See 2003 IALSS for more information.
A series of detailed personal interviews conducted by NetLab, from the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto, also contributed to this study.  The East York "Connected Lives" study was conducted in 2004-2005. This multi-stage study included surveys hand-delivered to a random sample of English-speaking literate adults in the East York area of Toronto and follow-up interviews with a 25% sub-sample. The sampling frame yielded 621 valid names and the survey had a response rate of 56%, yielding 350 completed surveys. All surveys were delivered between July 2004 and February 2005. 87 in-home interviews were completed between February and April of 2005. Additional details are available in Wellman, Hogan et al. (2006).

Chapleau is an isolated town of 2,300 in northern Ontario. As a result of a demonstration project by Bell Canada and Nortel Networks, most residents of the town obtained broadband Internet access in 2005 or 2006. To study this experience, the University of Toronto's NetLab did two sets of surveys, one set of interviews and four focus groups between 2005 and 2007.  We base our analysis here on the second, post-broadband survey conducted In October 2006, with a random sample of 219 residents, complemented by 33 detailed interviews conducted in the summer of 2006.  For more details about NetLab's Chapleau study, see Behrens, Glavin and Wellman (2007).