Commentary

Social Networking is Also Creeping Up on the Older Folks

According to the Pew Research Center, social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010. Between April 2009 and May 2010, social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88%, while use among those ages 65 and older grew 100% from 13% to 26%. At the same time, social networking use among users ages 18-29 grew by 13%.

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Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report, says "Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users... Email is still the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, but many older users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications."

  • One in five (20%) online adults ages 50-64 say they use social networking sites on a typical day, up from 10% one year ago.
  • Among adults ages 65 and older, 13% log on to social networking sites on a typical day, compared with just 4% who did so in 2009.

 

While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools. Although email continues to be the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, many users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications-sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts.

 

Half of online adults ages 50-64 and one in four wired seniors now count themselves among the Facebooking and LinkedIn masses. Young adult internet users ages 18-29 continue to be the heaviest users of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, with 86% saying they use the sites.

 

Adult Internet Users Who Use Social Networking Sites In Each Age Group (% of Group)

Age

9/2005

5/2008

11/2008

4/2009

12/2009

5/2010

18-29

16%

67%

73%

76%

83%

86%

30-49

12%

25%

36%

48%

58%

61%

50-64

7%

11%

16%

25%

36%

47%

65+

5%

7%

4%

13%

22%

26%

Source: Pew Research Center, August 2010

 

The use of Twitter and other services to share status updates has also grown among older users. While just 5% of users ages 50-64 had used Twitter or another status update service in 2009, 11% now say they use these tools. On a typical day, 6% of online adults ages 50-64 make Twitter a part of their routine, up from the 1% who did so in 2009.

 

By comparison, social networking sites have gained a much larger foothold in the lives of older Americans over time. 20% of adults ages 50-64 say they use social networking sites on a typical day, up from 10% one year ago. Likewise, 13% of online adults ages 65 and older log on to social networking sites, compared with just 4% who did so in 2009.

 

Overall, 92% of those ages 50-64 and 89% of those ages 65 and older send or read email and more than half of each group exchanges email messages on a typical day. 76% of internet users ages 50-64 get news online, and 42% do so on a typical day. Among internet users ages 65 and older, 62% look for news online and 34% do so on a typical day.

 

A Typical Day: Where Social Media Use Fits In (% of Age Group)

Activity

18-29

30-49

50-64

65+

Send or read email

62%

67%

60%

55%

Get news

44

45

42

34

Do any banking online

27

30

22

19

Social networking site

60

39

20

13

Use online classifieds

14

13

6

5

Twitter or status update service

18

9

6

3

Source: Pew Research Center's 2010 Tracking Survey, August 2010

 

The oldest adults in the U.S. (age 65+) are among the least likely to have high-speed access. (Just 31% have broadband at home). While the rates of broadband adoption among the oldest users are low, the frequency of use among those who do have high-speed access is relatively close to the usage levels of younger users.

 

Looking at adults ages 65 and older who have high-speed internet connections at home, 72% say they use the internet on a typical day. That compares with 77% of broadband users ages 50-64, 84% of those ages 30-49 and 86% of those ages 18-29.

 

Social media use is somewhat more prevalent among older users who have high-speed connections at home. Among broadband users ages 50-64, 52% now use social networking sites and 24% do so on a typical day. Among adults age 65 and older who have broadband at home, 28% now use social networking sites and 15% do so on a typical day. Among many other activities, having high-speed access has also been associated with a greater tendency to blog and share other forms of creative content online.

 

According to the report, social media is increasingly attractive to older adults:

  • In a September 2009 survey, about half of all social networking users ages 50 and older said they had been contacted by someone from their past who found them online. Overall, 64% of social networking users have searched for information about someone from their past, compared with 30% of non-users.
  • When other demographic factors are held constant, having a chronic disease significantly increases an internet user's likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv, or other forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems.
  • There are few other spaces, says the report,where tweens, teens, sandwich generation members, grandparents, friends and neighbors regularly intersect and communicate across the same network. The children and grandchildren of older adults are documenting many aspects of their lives through social media, and these are also becoming popular spaces for networking, continuing education, and political participation.

 

Social Media Trends, 2009-2010

 

% of online adults who use SNS or Twitter, 2009-2010

2009

2010

% Point Change, 2009-2010

% Change,

2009-2010

Social Networking Use

 

All adults

46%

61%

15

33%

Age

18-29

76

86

10

13%

30-49

48

61

13

27%

50-64

25

47

22

88%

65+

13

26

13

100%

Twitter/Status Update Use

All adults

11%

17%

6

55%

Age

18-29

20

27

7

35%

30-49

11

16

5

45%

50-64

5

11

6

120%

65+

3

5

2

-

Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, August 2010

 

For more about the study, and access to the complete PDF report file , please visit Pew Research here.

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