Socially Unbiased Parenting Support on the Internet – A Cross-sectional Study of Users of a Large Swedish Parenting Website
The Internet is becoming increasingly recognized as a source of social support. Parents of children with cancer and autism have been shown to find social support online, and many parents of healthy infants and children seek information about parenting online. However, access and use of the Internet is greater among socio-economically advantaged groups, a phenomenon known as the 'digital divide'. Our aim was to investigate whether users of a Swedish general parenting website perceived support in the parenting role and, if so, whether this support was socially biased because of the digital divide phenomenon. Users of the largest Swedish parenting website were asked to participate in the study. A total of 2221 users completed the anonymous survey posted on the website during a one-week period. Most respondents (95%) were female (mean age 30.6 years). Respondents' educational level was slightly, but not significantly, higher than that in the general population, whereas 68% had income levels at or under the national average, contradicting the intuitive hypothesis that users would be socio-economically privileged. Perceived social support, measured by the Interpersonal Support Evaluation List (ISEL) appraisal subscale, indicated high perceived support. Living without a partner and having lower levels of income and education increased perceived support. The perception that other parents' opinions are more valuable than the advice of experts was influential in the regression equation for ISEL scores, indicating that peer help is important in online social support. Internet use for general parenting issues in Sweden, mainly by women, does not seem to follow the digital divide phenomenon. Therefore, the internet provides an exciting opportunity for future infant and child public health work. The lack of fathers, however, was a surprising finding and introduces a gender bias into this seemingly socially unbiased medium.