A new US online study from Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center—which examined the family culture of app selection among nearly 1,200 parents of children between the ages of three and six years—has revealed that all parents, regardless of income, are interested in finding high-quality kids apps. But the way they actually discover apps may vary depending on income.
In the QuickStudy, entitled Discovering Kids’ Apps, a little more than half of those surveyed were mothers, and the majority were white and non-Hispanic. The sample was divided up into three groups of household income levels—483 lower-income families making less than US$50,000 per year, 403 middle-income families earning from US$50,000 to US$ 99,999 per year, and 212 higher-income families taking home at least US$100,000 per year.
The report sought to discover whether lower-earning families choose apps differently than wealthier families, what sources of information parents rely on to make app purchasing decisions and which family members do the selecting.
First up, the majority of parents across all three income groups reported that their children use apps multiple times per week or even several times per day, which may reflect that parents share an equal belief that apps are strong educational tools for children.
In terms of how parents source apps, many across income levels choose apps according to “relational” sources such as friends, family and teachers, but middle and higher income parents were especially likely to select these relational sources as their “top” sources of information.
Lower-income parents, meanwhile, were more likely than higher-income ones to pick features within app stores including the search bar, app descriptions, app store rankings and consumer reviews as their primary sources of information.
In addition, lower-income families were just as likely to list an app store source among their top sources as they were to list a relational source.
Interestingly, the survey asked only which sources parents utilize most, with no explanation as to how they use the sources or what kind of information is provided.
Looking at how app ownership varies with household income, lower-income families were found to download fewer apps than middle- and higher-income ones. Notably, 43% of lower-income families download only free apps, while fewer than 10% of higher-income families reported the same.
Moreover, 28% of higher-income families reported that half or more of their kid’s apps were paid, though just 5% of lower-income families reported paid downloads.
When asked how much they agreed with the statement “Children’s app descriptions rarely contain useful information,” higher-income parents, on average, tended to agree and feel stronger than lower-income parents about wanting more information from experts about choosing educational children’s apps. One-third of lower-income parents were either neutral or reported not wanting additional information from experts.
As for which family members are selecting kids apps, almost equal numbers of both middle- and higher-income parents reported that either the parent picks most apps or the child chooses them. Equal sharing of responsibility between parent and child was found to be less common.
Nearly half of lower-income parents, on the other hand, reported choosing apps for their child most of the time, and nearly a third reported sharing most app decisions with their child. Lower-income parents were also less likely than middle- and higher-income parents to let their child choose most apps themselves.
Digging deeper into app selection, the survey asked how often parents download and try an app themselves before allowing their child to use it. It was revealed that middle- and higher-income parents reported slightly more frequent “app trialing” than the lower-income parents.
The researchers also conclude that the high degree of engagement between lower-income parents and their child in the selection of apps at the outset is perhaps why they are somewhat less likely than middle- or higher-income parents to test out an app themselves before letting their children use it.
Notably, the report concludes that research around best practices for children’s educational app design has not kept pace with the proliferation of apps, and there is currently a small amount of specific guidance to provide families as they navigate the more than 2.2 million apps available in the Apple App Store alone.
The survey follows recent Joan Ganz Cooney Center research on the digital divide in the US that found families headed by Hispanic immigrants are less connected than other low- and moderate-income families, as one in 10 immigrant Hispanic families have no internet access at all, compared with 7% of US-born Hispanics.