Recent surveys highlight the fact that seniors lag behind the younger generation in the adoption and usage of technology. Based on interviews with more than 1500 adults age 65 and over, Pew researchers found they could roughly divide senior citizens into two groups. The first group is “younger, more highly educated, or more affluent.” They are far more technologically connected and demonstrate more positive attitudes toward the benefits of the modern digital world. In fact, this group uses the internet at rates approaching — or even exceeding — the general population. The second group is “older, less affluent, often with significant challenges with health or disability.” They are less connected and more wary of the Brave New World of digital platforms. Internet use drops off dramatically after age 75.
Here are some other facts about seniors and technology use:
1. 59% of Seniors Use the Internet
In 2012, 59% of seniors were internet users, up six percentage points from the previous year. In 2014, 47% of seniors have a high-speed broadband connection at home and 77% have a cell phone (up from 69% in 2012). According to the Brookings Institute, seniors spend most of their time online communicating with friends, shopping, and searching for health information.
2. Income Plays a Role in the Use of Technology for Seniors
Ninety percent of seniors with incomes over $75,000 are online and 82% in this income bracket have broadband at home. The percentages drop to 39% and 25%, respectively, for seniors with incomes below $30,000. A National Council on Aging survey found that while a majority of low-income seniors say technology is important in helping them stay in touch with friends and family, nearly half find the costs related to technology prohibitive.
3. More Educated Seniors Are Better Connected
Eighty-seven percent of seniors with college degrees are online and 76% of those have a broadband connection at home. Only 40% of those who report they did not attend college go online, with just 27% of those having broadband at home. One interesting development is that many colleges now offer free classes for seniors. In Ohio, for example, all state colleges and universities offer over-60 learners the opportunity to attend classes at no cost. Being connected with a college campus may increase the use of technology among seniors.
4. Physical Disabilities and Health Issues Play a Role in the Use of Technology for Seniors
Two in five senior adults report that they have a “physical or health condition that makes reading difficult or challenging” or a “disability, handicap, or chronic disease that prevents them from fully participating in many common daily activities.” These issues can interfere with seniors’ abilities to use modern technologies that rely on reading text on a screen and using complex fine motor skills. Only 49% of those who report health or disability issues are online; they are also less likely to own digital devices.
5. Seniors Need Help Learning New Technologies
Only 18% of seniors say they would feel comfortable learning to use a new form of technology on their own, while 77% said they would need assistance. And 56% said they would need help to venture onto social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A report from computer networking giant Cisco says that what’s needed is to “develop and support intermediaries who can empower older people by educating them about communication technology and the benefits it can bring.” With the right support, the report says, seniors could be helped to realize the potential of these technologies and then use them to enhance their well-being.
6. The Internet Is Integral to the Lives of Seniors Who Are Online
Seventy-one percent of those who use the internet go online nearly every day. Also, 79% of seniors who use the internet agree with the statement that “people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing,” while 94% agree with the statement that “the internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past.” In a research study at Loughborough University, older adults reported that being online gave them more social support. They also reported feeling more mentally alert, challenged, useful, and younger.
7. Seniors Are Slow to Adopt Smartphones, Tablets, or E-book Readers
Only 18% of seniors have smartphones and although 77% now have some kind of cell phone, they are usually more basic models. A larger percentage owns a tablet or an e-book reader (27%). And while 76% of high-income adults in the general population own smartphones, only 40% of seniors in the $75,000+ income bracket own the devices. One reason, according to the Cisco study, is that most technology is marketed to a younger demographic, emphasizing the “gimmicky” aspects of the products, which many seniors don’t need or want. Products marketed at seniors are often “aimed at the ‘frail elderly’, a group with which most older people do not identify.”
8. Seniors Lag Behind in Social Media
Only 27% of senior adults use social media (46% of online seniors) even though online connections may enhance their social interactions and reduce isolation. Also, 81% of those seniors who report using social media say they socialize with others on a daily or near-daily basis (compared to 71% of those who are online but do not use social networking sites and 63% of seniors who are not online at all). While 46% of online seniors do use social media, only 6% use Twitter (3% of all seniors). Senior women use social media in far greater numbers than their male counterparts, with 52% of female senior internet users participating in online networking sites and only 39% of men doing the same.
9. Seniors Not Connected Are Skeptical About Benefits of Technology
Only 48% of the seniors who are not online say that “people lacking internet access are at a disadvantage and missing out on important information” (with 25% agreeing strongly). In addition, 35% of senior non-internet users disagree with the statement and believe they are not missing out on important information. In fact, 18% of non-users disagree strongly with the statement. The Cisco report also found that “the knee-jerk reaction by some older people, unaware of [technology’s] potential benefits, is that technology is not for them, that they would derive no benefit from it.” In a previous survey, Pew also found that 57% of seniors said that they “don’t need a cell phone or are happy with their landline.”
So how are your parents and grandparents doing with the technology boom?