Analyzing the mobile “Digital divide”: Changing determinants of household phone ownership over time in Rural Bangladesh

Michael Clifton Tran, Alain Bernard Labrique, Sucheta Mehra, Hasmot Ali, Saijuddin Shaikh, Maithilee Mitra, Parul Christian, Keith West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background: We had a unique opportunity to examine demographic determinants of household mobile phone ownership in rural Bangladesh using socioeconomic data collected as part of a multiyear longitudinal cohort study of married women of reproductive age. Objectives: This paper explores how the demographics of household mobile phone owners have changed over time in a representative population of rural Bangladesh. Methods: We present data collected between 2008 and 2011 on household mobile phone ownership and related characteristics including age, literacy, education, employment, electricity access, and household wealth among 35,306 individuals. Respondents were enrolled when found to be newly pregnant and contributed socioeconomic information once over the course of the time period serving as a “sample” of families within the population at that time. Univariate and multiple logistic regressions analyses were performed to identify the socioeconomic determinants of household phone ownership. Results: Across 3 fiscal years, we found that reported household ownership of at least 1 working mobile phone grew from 29.85% in the first fiscal year to 56.07% in the third fiscal year. Illiteracy, unavailability of electricity, and low quartiles of wealth were identified as overall demographic constraints to mobile phone ownership. However, over time, these barriers became less evident and equity gaps among demographic status began to dissipate as access to mobile technology became more democratized. We saw a high growth rate in ownership among households in lower economic standing (illiterate, without electricity, low and lowest wealth index), likely a result of competitive pricing and innovative service packages that improve access to mobile phones as the mobile phone market matures. In contrast, as market saturation is rapidly attained in the most privileged demographics (literate, secondary schooling, electricity, high wealth index), members of the lower wealth quartiles seem to be following suit, with more of an exponential growth. Conclusions: Upward trends in household mobile phone ownership in vulnerable populations over time underline the potential to leverage this increasingly ubiquitous infrastructure to extend health and finance services across social and economic strata.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere24
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Bangladesh
  • Demography
  • Digital
  • Family characteristics
  • Finances
  • Mobile
  • Mobile Health (mHealth)
  • Ownership
  • Phones
  • Socioeconomic factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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