Older Adults and Technology Use

On April 3, 2014 the Pew Research Center (an American, self-described, ‘non-partisan fact tank’) released a report entitled Older Adults and Technology Use. The report explores the use of cell phones, Internet, digital technology and broadband by older adults 65+ in the United States.

Among the main findings is the emergence of two distinct groups of older adults, who appear to relate to technology differently. The first group is younger, more highly educated and affluent. They are more likely to possess new technology and view technology in a positive light. The second group is older, less affluent and often have chronic health conditions. The report finds these individuals ‘largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically’.

Age itself is an important distinction for technology use. For example, 68% of older adults in their early 70’s go online, whereas only 47% of Americans age 75-79 go online.

As with age, affluence plays a substantial role in online use. For example, 90% of older adults with an annual income of $75,000 or more, go online as opposed to 39% of older adults with an income of less than $30,000.

Education is also a factor for online participation. Of the older adults with a college degree, 87% go online. Only 40% of those who did not attend college go online.

Barriers and Challenges

  1. Physical challenges. Health conditions such as loss of vision and dexterity make it more difficult to use technology.
  2. Skeptical attitude. Many older adults (49%) who are not currently using the Internet agree that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing information. However, 35% of non Internet users disagree and 18% strongly disagree.
  3. Difficulty learning technology. The majority of older adults (77%), say they need assistance with learning new technology.

Unique Differences in Device Ownership from the General Population

  1. Cell phones. Fully 77% of older adults own a basic cell phone. Only 18% of older adults have a smartphone compared to more than half of all Americans.
  2. Tablets and e-books. For the general public, smartphone ownership is ‘much more common’ than tablets and e-books as compared with 27% of older adults who own a tablet, an e-book or both.

Social Networking Sites

  1. Twitter. Only 6% of older adults who are online use Twitter (3% of all older adults).
  2. Facebook. Older Americans (46%) are increasingly using social networking sites such as Facebook. The national average is 73% of Americans.

Older adult centres and libraries often provide opportunities for older adults interested in learning about new technology. The Elder Technology Assistance Group (ETAG) offers free technology assistance for adults 55+ throughout Oakville, Mississauga and Brampton.

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