Despite their growing popularity, home computers are still too expensive for many families earning less than $50,000 a year, the Census Bureau says.

The report shows that computer ownership in families with children ranges from 63 percent in families earning more than $75,000 a year to less than 10 percent in families earning below $15,000 a year.Computers were owned by 38 percent of families with children if family incomes ranged between $35,000 and $50,000, only 26 percent if family incomes fell between $25,000 and $35,000, the survey found.

Demographer Robert Kominski said he was "surprised" by the gaps in computer ownership, but he noted that the basic cost of a computer and printer didn't fall much below $2,000 during the late 1980s.

"Home computing equipment still represents a sizable investment for many families," Kominski said in his report. "In addition, many households still have little, or no, need for a computer."

The report predicts that home computers will become "as commonplace as calculators and telephones" if easy-to-use hardware and software can be made available at reasonable cost.

Overall, the proportion of households with home computers nearly doubled from 8 percent to 15 percent between 1984 and 1989. The percentage with computers jumped to 26 percent for families with school-age children in the house.

"Parents want children to be computer-literate," Kominski said.

Children of college graduates were more likely to use a computer than children whose parents had less than a high school education.