American Seniors and Digital Technology

According to the Pew Research Center, America’s seniors have historically been late adopters to the world of technology compared to their younger compatriots, but their movement into digital life continues to deepen. This study includes a unique exploration not only of technology use between Americans ages 65 or older and the rest of the population, but within the senior population as well.

Two different groups of older Americans emerge, says the report. The first group, (younger, more highly educated, or more affluent seniors) has relatively substantial technology assets, and also has a positive view toward the benefits of online platforms. The other (older and less affluent, often with significant challenges with health or disability) is largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically.

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.

In April 2012 the Pew Research Center found that more than half of older adults (ages 65 or older) were internet users. Today, 59% of seniors report they go online, a six-percentage point increase in the course of a year. And 47% say they have a high-speed broadband connection at home. In addition, 77% of older adults have a cell phone, up from 69% in April 2012.

Despite these gains, seniors continue to lag behind younger Americans when it comes to tech adoption; 41% do not use the internet at all, 53% do not have broadband access at home, and 23% do not use cell phones.

Seniors Lag In Tech Adoption


Tech Adoption (% of Respondents)


All adults


Cell phone









Source: Pew Research Center, April  2014

In addition, affluent and well-educated seniors adopt the Internet and broadband at substantially higher rates than those with lower levels of income and educational attainment:

  • Among seniors with an annual household income of $75,000 or more, 90% go online and 82% have broadband at home. For seniors earning less than $30,000 annually, 39% go online and 25% have broadband at home.
  • 87% of seniors with a college degree go online, and 76% are broadband adopters. Among seniors who have not attended college, 40% go online and just 27% have broadband at home.
  • 68% of Americans in their early 70s go online, and 55% have broadband at home. By contrast, Internet adoption falls to 47% and broadband adoption falls to 34% among 75-79 year olds.

Internet And Broadband Use (% Within Each Age Group)


Go online

Broadband at Home













Source: Pew Research Center, April 2014

Older adults who do not currently use the internet because of a “physical or health condition” are divided on the question of whether that lack of access hurts them or not:

  • 49% agree with the statement that “people lacking internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing,” with 25% agreeing strongly
  • 35% of these older non-internet users disagree that they are missing out on important information, and 18% of them strongly disagree.

A significant majority of older adults say they need assistance when it comes to using new digital devices:

  • 18% would feel comfortable learning to use a new technology device such as a smartphone or tablet on their own
  • 77% indicate they would need someone to help walk them through the process
  • 56% would need assistance if they wanted to use Facebook or Twitter to connect with friends or family members

Among older adults who use the internet, 71% go online every day or almost every day, and an additional 11% go online three to five times per week. 79% of older adults 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.”

Daily Online Use by Age (% of Users by Age Group)











3-5 times per week





Every day or almost every day





Source: Pew Research Center, April  2014

Device ownership among older adults differs notably from the population as a whole in several specific ways:

  • More than half of all Americans now have a smartphone, but among older adults, adoption levels ar just 18%. A significant majority of older adults (77%) do have a cell phone of some kind, but by and large these tend to be more basic devices
  • Among the general public, smartphones are much more common than either tablet computers or e-book readers, such as Kindles or Nooks. But the proportion of older adults who own either a tablet or an e-book reader is actually larger than the proportion owning a smartphone. 27% of seniors own a tablet, an e-book reader, or both, while 18% own a smartphone
  • 27% of older adults use social networking sites such as Facebook, but these users socialize more frequently with others compared with non-SNS users
  • Today 46% of online seniors (representing 27% of the total older adult population) use social networking sites
  • 81% of older adults who use social networking sites say that they socialize with others (either in person, online, or over the telephone) on a daily or near-daily basis. vs. only 71% who go online but do not use social networking sites, and only 63% of those who are not online at all

To review the complete report, please visit Pew Research here.



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