Health Disparities and the Digital Divide: The Relationship between Communication Inequalities and Quality of Life among Women in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study in the United States

Philbin, Morgan M.; Parish, Carrigan; Pereyra, Margaret; Feaster, Daniel J.; Cohen, Mardge; Wingood, Gina; Konkle-Parker, Deborah; Adedimeji, Adebola; Wilson, Tracey E.; Cohen, Jennifer; Goparaju, Lakshmi; Adimora, Adaora A.; Golub, Elizabeth T.; Metsch, Lisa R.
Journal of Health Communication

Communication inequalities can affect health-seeking behaviors yet the relationship between Internet use and overall health is inconclusive. Communication-related inequalities vary by race/ethnicity and SES but existing research primarily includes middle-class Whites. We therefore examined the relationship between communication-related inequalities—measured by daily Internet use—and health-related quality of life (QOL) using a nationwide prospective cohort study in the United States that consists of primarily low income, minority women.

We examined Internet use and QOL among participants in the Women’s Interagency HIV Study. Data collection occurred from October 2014-September 2015 in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Birmingham/Jackson and Miami. We used multi-variable analyses to examine the relationship between daily Internet use and QOL.

The sample of 1,915 women was 73% African American and 15% Hispanic; 53% reported an annual income of ≤$12,000. Women with daily Internet use reported a higher QOL at six months, as did women with at least a high school diploma, income >$12,000, and non-White race; older women and those with reported drug use, depressive symptoms and loneliness had lower QOL.

Overcoming communication inequalities may be one pathway through which to improve overall QOL and address public health priorities. Reducing communication-related inequalities—e.g, by providing reliable Internet access—and thus improving access to health promoting information, may lead to improved health outcomes.