By Vishal Trehan, Stephanie Walsh, Gregory Porumbescu, and Andrea Hetling

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Digital skills are increasingly essential for citizens to access and utilize online government services effectively. However, there are also reports of disparities in digital skill levels across different demographic groups. This new report, published by the New Jersey State Policy Lab, aimed to develop a measurement model to assess the digital skills required for accessing local government services online and analyze how these skills vary based on factors like age, gender, education, race, and income.

An online survey with 11 self-reported items was administered to 1,825 participants in the U.S. using Amazon’s MTurk platform. Principal component analysis was performed on the survey responses, revealing two key dimensions of digital skills – 1) Online Tasks and Transaction Skills and 2) Document Manipulation Skills. Moreover, the analysis showed some demographic variation in digital skill levels across these two dimensions.

First, in terms of online tasks and transaction skills, we find an inverted U-shaped pattern across age groups, peaking around 35-44 years. In addition, women scored slightly higher than men and higher education levels correlated with higher scores.

Second, with respect to document manipulation skills, we find a significant downward linear trend with increasing age. Further, we find that men scored slightly higher than women and that higher education and income levels associated with higher scores.

These findings suggest that while there is some commonality in terms of disparities across the two dimensions, there are also subtle yet important differences. Cumulatively, our results highlight the need for targeted digital literacy interventions that account for needs such as job training and education to address digital skill deficiencies in specific demographic segments. Measuring digital skills and understanding their relationship with demographics can inform strategies to bridge the digital divide and empower citizens to utilize online government services effectively.