Pew Study Shows A Gap Within Older Demo About Internet Use

You’ve probably seen the Esurance commercial.  Beatrice, a hausfrau generally of Social Security age, brags to her lady friends in her kitchen" “Instead of mailing everyone my vacation photos, I’m saving a ton by posting them to my wall.”   

But her wall is really a wall in her kitchen, not on Facebook. After a couple more gaffes, one of her more plugged-in friends finally tells her: “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”

And that turns out to be something like real life, just about.

According to new study results from Pew Research Internet Center, not only is there a gap between young and old in terms of Internet know-how, there is a division among older folks who get it and older folks who don't get it.

Some—mainly richer, more educated and slightly younger—know how to use the technology and embrace it. The other—the older old, less-educated, and more challenged by health concerns—is “largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically,” the report says.

The good news—or maybe irrelevant (I say ruefully), given how advertisers and media dote on younger demos—is that since 2012, more than half of older adults are Internet users. Today, 59% go online, a substantial six-percentage point jump in one year. Nearly half have a high speed connection, and 77% have cell phones, all per Pew.

And 71% go online every day.

But on the flip side, 41% don’t use the Internet at all. And 35% of older non-Internet users disagree with the statement that they are missing out on something important and 18% within that group “strongly disagree.”

You know, you get set in your ways and all that.

The Pew report shows figures that suggest Internet use by older Americans can be pretty robust among the younger old. But at about age 75, Pew says, the likelihood that someone has broadband and uses the Internet both decline.

Pew also reports, though, that younger, richer and more highly educated seniors use the Internet and broadband as much or more than the general population. Altogether, older users are more likely to have a tablet than a smartphone. Just 18% of them have those.   

It’s not all about familiarity with devices. For some, infirmities limit their ability to use technology the way many younger people do. 

And really, they need help, otherwise. Pew says “a significant majority” of older adults need help getting the hang of digital devices and only 18% say they feel comfortable learning new digital things; 77% need a walk-through. (Actually, I’d love to learn if there are stats about that for younger-than-golden-agers. It seems lots of digital devices stress simplicity in their sales pitch and thereby might be learning through their own research that even some native digital users could stand some language lessons.)

The implications of this study might be positive. Internet use by the elderly is growing, rapidly, just as they are as a group. For businesses, it would seem to suggest there's a much bigger, brighter market out there.

And it’s kind of bad. There’s a big gulf between users and non-users by income and education, and perhaps most unfortunately, by health.  

Pew notes, “As the Internet plays an increasingly central role in connecting Americans of all ages to news and information, government services, health resources, and opportunities for social support, these divisions are noteworthy—particularly for the many organizations and individual caregivers who serve the older adult population.”

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1 comment about "Pew Study Shows A Gap Within Older Demo About Internet Use".
  1. J S from Ideal Living Media , April 3, 2014 at 9:11 p.m.
    Re: 35% are offline. Keep in mind that 13-16% of Americans are illiterate (depending on your definition of illiteracy), which is close to the number of Americans living offline, overall. The literacy rates are probably somewhat lower among the elderly, due to improvements in the public educational system over time, and length of time away from formal schooling. Talk radio, the evening news, and their social clubs... That's their whole world.