Parental smartphone purchases


The Mobility Effect: Uncovering Bias Function Within Parental Decision-Making Related to Smartphone Purchases.


Project background and aims

A key concern to educators, policymakers and stakeholders is greater broadband deployment to bridge the digital divide. While some researchers have called for greater infrastructural investment or the use of White Space to provide broader internet access, these projects have largely been avoided. Instead, 4G (and soon 5G) deployment has been seen as a way to increase access. However, there is good reason to believe that the preferred method of broadband penetration, wireless access through smartphones, is less well respected than other methods. This implicates funding for telecommunications subsidies to underserved populations (e.g., the U.S. Lifeline program). This research tests subjects’ assessments of parental purchases of mobile phones and more traditional computers.

In this project we present the findings of an empirical study designed to determine whether there exists a technological bias against mobile phone technology, evidenced in the approval ratings of comparative parental decision-making around mobile phones, laptops, and desktop computers. The study consisted of an online simulation, which asked subjects to evaluate a series of hypothetical parental decisions regarding children’s use of technology. All subjects were American adults (n=195).

This study presents several questions for review:

  1. Will subjects approve of an education-motivated purchase of a smartphone at the same level as an education-motivated purchase of a laptop? Further, will preferences be stable across demographic groups and levels of student achievement?
  2. Will subjects approve of an education-motivated purchase of a smartphone if it is known that the student will also use the device for socializing?
  3. Will subjects approve of the refusal to purchase a smartphone-accessible education program at the same rate as a desktop-accessible education program?

The hypotheses for these questions presumed that subjects would hold less-positive views of smartphones, even when purchased for an educational purpose and subjects would negatively view smartphone purchases made for students with low academic achievement (perhaps on the assumption that the devices would be misused). Perception would sink even further if the device was used for socializing.


This is an empirical study involved three observation opportunities after three hypothetical fact patterns, with multiple variables under review in each period. The study followed a 2 x 2 x 2 design, with related factors analysed for between subjects effects in each sequence, with 2 within-subjects factors.

Sequence 1 involved three variable categories for between subjects: Race (Minority/Majority), Gender (Male presenting / Female presenting), and Technology Type (Laptop / Smart Phone). Within-subjects factors were socio-economic status (Advantaged / Disadvantaged) and academic performance (High/Average/Low). Sequence 2 involved the same categories for between subjects and within subjects testing, however the Technology Types differed (Desktop / Smart Phone). Sequence 3 involved removed the socio-economic status within-subject factor.