According to a new study from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), regardless of ethnicity, consumers use the Internet for the same reasons and to accomplish the same tasks. Although Asian- and Hispanic-Americans use the Internet more than African-Americans, the racial divide disappears online and ethnic groups exhibit the same behavior.

“In 1999, connectivity to the Net from home increased by at least 11% for all ethnic groups,” said Ekaterina O. Walsh, Ph.D., analyst at Forrester Research. “In fact, Internet penetration among Asian-American households matches that of mass consumer technologies like cable TV, while Hispanic-Americans are 9% more likely than Caucasians to be online.”

Ethnic background alone does not explain the existence of a digital divide. Although a combination of factors determines if a consumer is online, income is the strongest predictor — across all groups, online penetration rises as income rises. Other drivers of Internet use include age, education, and technology optimism.

Regardless of ethnicity, consumers use the Internet for the same reasons: communication, access to information, entertainment, and shopping. Two-thirds of online ethnic group members cited email as the primary reason for getting wired. Online consumers mine the Internet for information on everything from the weather to nutrition. The quest for entertainment consistently influences how consumers of all ethnic backgrounds use the Internet. Examination of online purchases by ethnic groups reveals that all consumers progress almost in lock step through a retail adoption cycle — buying convenience items the most, researched products second, and replenishment goods the least.

The immaterial impact of ethnic background on online behaviors highlights the need for sites to offer more than a generic ethnic label to attract visitors. Online users have individual interests, ranging from arts and gardening to hunting and fishing, that are stronger drivers of surfing behavior than ethnic background is. Ethnic-focused sites should specialize to gain an edge amid the clamor of broad-based ethnic portals.

For the Brief “The Truth About The Digital Divide,” Forrester drew upon a survey of more than 80,000 households that was fielded in January 2000.