One-third of Americans are pessimistic about tech — and they’re more likely to be poor, less educated, and female.

(Pew Research)
(Pew Research)

A recent Pew Research survey showed that around two-thirds of Americans think technology will lead to a future where people's live are "mostly" better. But what about the other third -- the ones who think that technological advances will make lives worse? Who are these dystopians?

They're more likely to be poor, less educated, and female. And they might be right -- at least about how technological advances could affect their specific situation.

According to Pew, 35 percent of people with a high school degree or less thought technology changes would make lives "mostly worse" in the future, as did 38 percent of those living in households with incomes below $30,000 per year.  Only 21 percent of college graduates and 22 percent of people in  households with incomes above $70,000 agreed with them.

And it's easy to see why some of those people might not be as enthusiastic: Technological advances in recent years have made it more difficult for some people with lower educational attainment or incomes. Think about how advances in communication and transportation meant lower skilled labor went overseas -- and now, is replaced by robots or computer programs. When a robot takes your job, maybe you don't think as kindly about the second generation of that robot.

Sure, these people might be excited about the possibilities of technological change. But it's possible to see the potential for good while believing that the net effect on most people will be negative. Especially when the direct effects of tech on their lives may appear negative so far, while the benefits are less tangible or just plain out of reach. To put it simply: If you can't afford the next iPhone, it's harder to get excited about it.

Women are also more pessimistic about tech's affect on the future than their male counterparts -- with a 9 point gap between the 25 percent of men who thought tech would make things worse versus 36 percent of women. There was an even larger gender gap on the optimism side, with 67 percent of men thinking tech would leave people "mostly better" off in the future versus just 51 percent of women.

The pessimistic outlook of some women may be tied to other factors -- for instance, women are slightly more likely than men to live in poverty in the United States. Or maybe female science fiction fans just prefer a gritty dystopia to an abundant utopian setting.

But there could also be some gender specific fears, like possible privacy implications. There are a few points in the data that suggest women are less comfortable with tech that could lead to less privacy. Women overwhelmingly feel negatively about the possibility of widespread use of wearable or implanted computing by 59 to 29 percent, versus the almost even split on the issue by men. Women are also less excited about the possibility of personal or commercial drone use.

This may be linked to issues raised by previous advances -- for instance, the Internet can be an uncomfortable, and even sometimes scary place, for women. If you need convincing of that, go read Amanda Hess's feature on how women aren't welcome online, which includes her attempts to take action against her harasser through law enforcement not prepared to tackle current tech, let alone future advances.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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