Digital Inequalities of Family Life Information Seeking and Family Well-Being Among Chinese Adults in Hong Kong: A Population Survey

1]. Diffusion of advanced information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Hong Kong has led to a high rate of Internet penetration (77.9%), but a digital divide (defined as differential access to Internet among different groups of people) [2] between socioeconomic classes [3]. Prevalence of Internet connection among people living in public housing estates (69.3%) and having low monthly household income (HK$10,000, 38.9%) was much lower than private housing (82.1%) and income HK$50,000 (98.2%) [3]. A similar phenomenon was observed for computer use and educational gradients (primary or less: 28.4%; secondary: 82.3%; and postsecondary or greater: 96.8%) [3].

Such inequalities on Internet use suggest a widening gap between information haves and have nots as the Internet is increasingly used as a source for information seeking, although offline searching (eg, television and newspaper) remains an important channel for obtaining information. Bridging communication inequalities is pivotal to reduce social inequality [4]. Most studies have focused on digital health communication inequalities and adverse effects across the continuum of health [58]. Inequalities in health information communication only represent a part of the digital divide because the Internet is also used for everyday life information seeking (ELIS), which includes information for solving problems encountered in everyday situations [9,10]. ELIS is studied mostly in the field of information science and rarely in behavioral or social science. Therefore, we aimed to extend current research on digital divide to include information on family life activities.

Family life information is considered an important part of family life, and refers to information to strengthen family functioning through improving communication skills, knowledge about developmental tasks, decision-making skills, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships [11]. Only a few studies have investigated the family information needs for specific topics, such as parenting, childcare, and information needs for sick children [1214]. Recognizing the importance of providing family life information, particularly for parents with young children, the UK government has set up family information services in all parts of the country to provide comprehensive family-related information particularly for lower socioeconomic groups [15].

The concept of family life information has not been clearly defined. We adopted a broad, simple, and practical definition of family life information seeking behaviors as information related to family communication; relationships with children, partners, and other family members; work-life balance; and emotion and stress management. These components are commonly reported in many Western studies as main factors affecting family well-being [16,17]. Similarly, our qualitative studies exploring the concepts of family well-being in the general public and community leaders in Hong Kong found that health, happiness, and harmony (3Hs) are the 3 major themes of family well-being [18,19]. The concept of the family 3Hs are coherent with the traditional Chinese value on collectivism, but are different from Western individualist culture, which puts more emphasis on personal happiness and independence than family 3Hs [20].

Specifically, this study aimed to investigate socioeconomic and sociodemographic correlates of frequency of seeking, frequency of attention, levels of trust, and perceived usefulness toward online family life information focusing on socioeconomic inequalities. In addition, the associations between family life information seeking behaviors and the family 3Hs were also investigated.



Details of research design have been reported elsewhere [6,21]. In brief, as a part of the FAMILY project, the Hong Kong Family and Health Information Trends Survey (FHInTS) was conducted in 2012 using a random telephone-based survey of the general public to monitor opinions and behaviors related to family health and communication [6]. All interviews were conducted by trained interviewers of the Public Opinion Programme from the University of Hong Kong. A 2-stage random sampling method was used. Telephone numbers were retrieved from residential telephone directories that cover approximately 76% of Hong Kong residents [22]. A computer program was used to generate a list of the telephone numbers in random order for interviews. Invalid household numbers, nonresponses, and ineligible households (people aged 18 years or not able to speak Cantonese) were excluded (n=8748). In the second stage, after interviewers introduced the study purpose, adult respondents were asked how many eligible persons were living in the household. All eligible persons were listed and the person with the next birthday closest to the interview day was selected for interview. Each interview took approximately 25 minutes to complete. Among 2080 people with confirmed eligibility, 1537 adults were successfully interviewed yielding a response rate of 73.9% [23]. Ethical approval was granted by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the University of Hong Kong/Hospital Authority Hong Kong West Cluster. Verbal informed consent was obtained and recoded verbatim, and the procedure was approved by the IRB.


Definitions of families (family members are those who have relationships through biological, marital, cohabital, or emotional bonding) and family life information seeking (definition as mentioned previously) were presented to the respondents prior to the questions about family life information seeking. Frequency of family life information seeking was assessed by the question: “In the past 12 months, how often have you searched for family life information on the Internet?” with responses of ≥1 time/week, 1-3 times/month, 1 time in several months, rarely, and never/do have not Internet access. Attention to family information was assessed by the question “How often did you pay attention to family life information” with responses of frequently, sometimes, rarely, and never. Trust in family life information was assessed by the question: “What do you think about the online family information sought last time?” with responses of very trustful, partly trustful, neutral, not trustful, and completely not trustful. Perceived usefulness of online family life information was assessed by the question: “Do you think online family life information is useful?” with responses of very useful, partly useful, little useful, and not useful. Perceived family harmony, happiness, and health was assessed using 3 separate questions asking respondents to give a score from 0-10 with a higher score indicating better family well-being. Internal consistency of these 3 items was supported by a satisfactory Cronbach alpha (.84).

As in other similar studies on information seeking [5,24], socioeconomic status (SES) was measured using educational attainment, household monthly income, and employment. Several studies have documented the influence of these SES variables on a variety of health outcomes [2527]. The responses for SES were based on our previous studies and the Hong Kong census with slight modifications. Education attainment was categorized as primary or less (combining no formal education and primary education), secondary, and tertiary or greater. Monthly household income (in Hong Kong dollars; US $1 = HK$7.8) was categorized as HK$10,000 (combining HK$4000 and HK$4000-HK$9999), HK$10,000-HK$19,999, HK$20,000-HK$29,999, HK$30,000-HK$39,999, and ≥HK$40,000. Employment status was categorized as full-time, part-time, self-employed, and unemployed. Health behaviors were correlated with information seeking as found in our previous studies [6]. We assessed the associations of smoking (never, ex-, and current), alcohol drinking (never, ex-, occasional, and monthly), and physical activity (none, 1-3 days/week, ≥4 days/week) with family life information seeking.

Statistical Analysis

All data were weighted by sex and age from the census data. Inequalities in family life information seeking by sex, age, marital status, and SES indicators were assessed by logistic regression, which yielded adjusted odds ratios (aOR) for family life information seeking. The association between family life information seeking and family well-being was estimated using linear regression (beta coefficients) adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics and health status. All analyses were performed using STATA 10 (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX, USA). A P value of .05 was considered statistically significant.


Of all respondents (N=1537), 45.71% (703/1537) were male, 73.78% (1123/1522) aged 25-64 years, 61.13% (937/1533) were married, 86.59% (1325/1530) had secondary school educational attainment, and 61.81% (801/1296) had monthly household income ≥HK$ 20,000. Details of socioeconomic status are reported elsewhere [28]. Sample representativeness was supported by small difference in distribution of sex, age, educational attainment, and household income between our sample and the general population (Cohen’s effect size 0.3) [28].

Table 1 shows that one-quarter of respondents (25.8%, 396/1537) sought family life information for recreational purposes followed by information for improving family relationships (17.7%, 272/1537) and communication (15.3%, 235/1537), managing emotional problems and stress (14.0%, 215/1537), and improving work and ability (10.8%, 165/1537). More than half of the respondents (57.57%, 885/1537) had ever sought family life information with 26.45% (407/1537) on a monthly basis. In addition to active seeking, more than two-thirds (69.12%, 1059/1532) of the respondents had ever paid attention to family life information. Only 3.2% (39/1198) reported online family life information as trustful and 10.5% (137/1309) of respondents reported it as very useful.

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