The Elderly and the World Wide Web (Infographic)

by Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD

There are a lot of misconceptions around seniors and technology. There’s a general perception that the elderly are complete technophobes. We’ve all seen, and no doubt chuckled at all the funny memes out there or the jokes like the one where grandpa uses correction fluid on the screen to correct an error.

But let’s take a step back for a moment. It might make for a fun meme to share with your friends, but is this perception of the elderly correct? Not if you take a closer look at the elderly internet usage statistics. You’ll see that this is far from the truth.

In the following infographic about The Elderly & The World Wide Web, we’ll show you the facts. You’ll learn how the elderly really feel about the web and other tech. We’ll look at how they use the net, what type of information they access, and a whole lot more besides. As you’ll see, there are a lot of benefits of seniors using technology and the seniors themselves would be the first to acknowledge that.

The Elderly & The World Wide Web (Infographic)

How Do the Elderly Really View the World Wide Web?

We tend to think of the internet as a modern invention. And, while it’s true it doesn’t have a long and illustrious history, it’s actually older than you might think. Developed initially by the Baby Boomer generation, the net is not as incomprehensible to the elderly as you might think. We can see that from the official statistics. Did you know, for example, that elderly internet access tends to be daily for seniors over the age of 65?

Boomers are very interested in the internet as a source of information. Around 82% of this group use it to get more information on a variety of topics. Your typical Baby Boomer spends around 27 hours a week online. So, if you thought you could relax on the internet, take note – your granny might as well have the skills required to stalk you!

Why Do Seniors Use the Internet?

The stats for the elderly and technology use might surprise you. Seniors like using the internet for many of the same reasons that the rest of us do.

  • 78% of seniors will check online for information about a topic that they’re interested in.
  • 60% use it to stay up to date on political issues and other newsworthy items.

Interestingly enough, considering the above-mentioned stats, only about a third of seniors believe that the internet is the most reliable source for news. So, clearly the internet for seniors is important, but not all of them believe what they read.

What Type of Information Do Seniors Access Online?

What information they access will depend on what their immediate goals are. The top five topics searched for by seniors, in order of popularity, are:

  • News and weather
  • Shopping
  • Food information
  • Games and related activities
  • Coupons, deals, and daily discounts  

It appears, therefore, that we don’t need to focus on teaching seniors to use the internet – they’re pretty adept at using it already. And, when it comes to the internet, age may well be nothing more than a number. 71% of the older users will either access the internet daily or pretty close to it. Only about 11% of seniors limit their internet usage to three or five times weekly.

What Can the Internet Be Used For?

While funny cat videos are amusing and loved by most people, there are far more potential uses. Let’s look at how are elderly people using the internet.

  • 20% of grandparents communicate with their family via email.
  • 75% use some form of an online communication system to stay in touch.
  • More than half of all seniors follow some form of group on social media.
  • 40% of seniors watch news videos online to stay up to date.
  • 53% use the internet to get information about health issues. This could be about improving their health, diagnosing problems, or taking proactive measures, like learning to prevent falls.
  • 54% of seniors watch videos online for entertainment.
  • 63% watch TV shows online.
  • Half of all seniors agree that playing games online is a good way to maintain mental sharpness. Which goes to show, that when we’re considering technology for the aging population, we don’t have to just stick to a range of medical devices, we should also look into more fun applications like games as well.

How Internet Usage Can Be Broken Down by Category

How much is the internet used by seniors in each category? By now it should be pretty clear that being at the top of the game in terms of technology and aging are not mutually exclusive concepts. Look at Bill Gates – the founder of Microsoft is now in his sixties. We wonder if he accesses the same kinds of categories as others in his age group.

Here’s how many seniors use the internet for the following reasons:

  • Getting health or medical info tops the list (66%). This is a no-brainer – seniors also want to make sure that they get the best medical care and devices possible. It’s great to be able to access the wealth of information in this respect online.
  • Visiting state, local, or federal websites (58%). Your golden oldies also need to make sure that they’re following the law properly. Perhaps they need to check bylaws, file their taxes, and so on. Future technology for elderly people might look into ways to make these mundane tasks even simpler.
  • Do banking or any sort of financial management (55%). Let’s face it; we’re with the over-sixties club on this one. Who wants to go into a bank these days unless it’s absolutely necessary?
  • Use Facebook or other social networking sites (44%). Yep, granny might very well be checking out all those posts you make on Instagram, so keep it clean.
  • Use video chat services (26%). It’s no longer uncommon for families to be spread out all over the world. A huge advantage of technology for elderly people is that it makes it easy and more cost-effective to stay connected, irrespective of the distance.
  • Seniors also take classes online (18%). Maybe it’s because they have some subject that they’ve always been interested in. Maybe it’s because they want to learn something new. Or maybe they just want to find courses that teach seniors technology. It doesn’t really matter, they’ve got their notebooks out and are using them.

What is interesting is that at the turn of this century, only 14% of seniors did use the internet. That number has changed significantly now. Is it because tech has made things a little easier? Is it because it’s the way of the world and seniors don’t have much of a choice? Or is it because the elderly struggle with technology is not quite as pronounced as we’d like to believe.

The Share of Internet Users by Age in the United States

Two-thirds of those 65 and over use the internet in the United States. That figure shoots up to 87% for the age group 50–64. Are users in the United States more technologically savvy? Considering that it’s a first-world country, perhaps they have better access to new tech. Or perhaps it’s a case of technology for seniors made easy through better education?

Smartphone-Dependent Users by Age

Taking gran’s smartphone away because she’s been naughty is not likely to be a serious problem for her. Only around one in ten seniors over the age of 65 feel dependent on their phones. For those between the ages of 50 and 64, it’s more of a threat. That said, in the second age group, only sixteen percent of seniors feel dependent on their phones. There are some differences between seniors and technology use and how the younger generations use tech, but there are also some similarities.

Home Broadband Subscribers by Age

Not surprisingly, the age group 80+ has the least amount of home broadband subscribers overall. In that age group, less than a third do have home broadband. The percentage rises up to two-thirds for those aged 66–69. Don’t count the older folk out just yet, though. In the age group, 70–74, 61% of seniors have broadband at home. It would seem that internet access for seniors is just as important to them as it is to the rest of us.

Disabled Seniors Online

Now it’s time to stow some of your expectations. You’d think that disabled seniors would be more likely to make use of the internet and related tech. You’d be wrong. Seniors without a disability are more likely to:

  • Go online
  • Have broadband at home
  • Use a smartphone
  • Use a tablet

That’s really surprising, isn’t it? You’d think that assistive technology devices for elderly adults would push those statistics the other way around. But, if you think about it a little, it does make sense this way. What we need to consider here is the definition of disabled in this case.

You possibly find that many seniors that fall under the category of disabled here are completely disabled. Maybe they’re bedridden and needing a health care worker to help them perform basic tasks. If that’s the case, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be bothered with going online.

And, considering that 22% of disabled adults in the UK will never go online, this seems like a likely hypothesis. It is an area that tech companies should look into, though – wearable technology for elderly people could be an avenue that is worth exploring.

Technology Use Among Older Adults

So, what exactly does your gran get up to all day online, aside from stalking you, that is? Let’s have a look.

Technology adoption is highest in all categories in the 70–74 age group. In this age group:

  • 75% use the internet
  • 93% own a cell phone of some kind
  • 61% have a broadband subscription
  • 23% have an e-reader
  • 32% own a tablet
  • 41% have used social media

As the ages start to increase, we get a better answer to the question, “How does technology affect the elderly?” The answer? Older people seem to be less affected by tech because they use it less.

In the 75–79 age group, technology adoption takes a bit of a knock:

  • 60% use the internet
  • 62% own a cell phone of some kind
  • 61% have a broadband subscription
  • 18% have an e-reader
  • 28% own a tablet
  • 23% have used social media

Interestingly enough, this does indicate that seniors and technology do still have a reasonably good relationship, even at a more advanced age.

In the 80 and over age group, tech adoption is at its lowest:

  • 45% use the internet
  • 58% own a cell phone of some kind
  • 28% have a broadband subscription
  • 12% have an e-reader
  • 20% own a tablet
  • 18% have used social media

Seniors in this age group are the least likely to use tech. That said, almost half of the seniors in this group do use the internet. It just goes to show that internet access for the elderly is something that is important at any age.

Most Popular Daily Activities of People Aged Sixty and Over

Okay, now we have an idea of the broad categories at play here. How do the elderly actually use the internet daily, though? Let’s have a look at the most popular activities for the over sixty club:

  • Email management is the top daily activity by far. 91% of seniors will check or use their email daily.
  • Using a search engine comes in second with 70% of seniors running some kind of search daily. Many seniors use the power of the internet to find great deals and discounts. Speaking of which – we have a massive list of senior discounts right here, so our site should be the first to be investigated.  
  • Checking the weather, getting news, and performing some sort of banking come in third, fourth, and fifth respectively. Checking social media, shopping and checking political developments come in after that.
  • From there, daily activities start to dwindle. Only 24% of seniors will send an instant message daily. Fewer still watch videos, book travel, use an online classified site, or participate in an auction.

If you’re in the business of providing internet services, it makes sense to ensure to offer discounted internet for seniors. You know that they’ll use it, but they won’t be downloading huge movie files, so it’s win-win.

What Devices Do Seniors Use?

Cell phones are popular devices across all age groups. At least 58% of all seniors do have some sort of cell phone. At least 17% of all seniors in all age groups have a smartphone. Not surprisingly, the older the person, the less likely they are to have a smartphone or cell phone.

This should be taken into consideration if you’re considering buying gadgets for elderly parents.

In the age group 65–69, around 95% have cell phones and 59% smartphones. The age group 70–74 comes in pretty close with 93% having cell phones and 49% having smartphones. It’s after this that the numbers start to take a serious dive. In the age group 75–79, only 63% have a cell phone, and only 31% have a smartphone.

Smartphone Usage by Category

To understand better what the best internet device for elderly adults is, it’s a good idea to look at the way the different age groups use their smartphones. It’s interesting to see how differently the older folks use their smartphones.

Whereas those in the 35–44 age group are the most prolific users when it comes to instant messaging, photos, and social media, they’re not the most prolific users in every category. With web surfing, they come out even with the over 55 group. When it comes to emails and phone calls, the over 55 group come on top each time.   

Primary Device for Checking Personal Email

One area where the elderly using technology is quite pronounced is when it comes to emails. 62% of seniors prefer to check emails on their smartphone thanks to the convenience of the method. Only 30% will use their laptop or desktop for this. Tablets fare the worst in this category, with only around 8% of seniors using them for this.

Conversion Rates by Age

You agree that so far, all this information has been eye-opening. If you’re marketing to seniors, then the following elderly and technology statistics will be especially useful for you. Interestingly enough, there’s not much difference between conversion rates between the three major categories across three different devices.

Desktop/laptop computers score top points for all age groups:

  • 45–55: 59%
  • 55–64: 65%
  • 65 and over: 72%

It seems that people are not as keen on buying using their phones:

  • 45–55: 22%
  • 55–64: 16%
  • 65 and over: 10%

Tablets come in very low on the list when it comes to conversions – no age group seems to like shopping with them:

  • 45–55: 19%
  • 55–64: 19%
  • 65 and over: 18%

To cut a long story short, seniors in the over 65 category seem to prefer shopping on a desktop or laptop so when it comes to technology for seniors; you’re better off sticking to tried and tested methods.

Device Adoption by Age

If you were wondering whether or not the conversion rates had something to do with the newness of tablets, you might be surprised to find that this is not such a factor.

43% of those in the fifty and over age group do use tablets. In the eighty and over age group, that figure drops to 40%. Which, if you consider the conversion rates listed above, shows that people may be comfortable using the tablets for some functions, but not so much for shopping.

The more elderly-friendly technology, in this case, desktop computers, doesn’t fare a lot better. 61% of seniors over 50 will use a desktop. This figure increases to 66% for those over the age of seventy. This could be more of a factor of the tech being available, rather than an issue with being able to use it when you consider the statistics of those using smartphones.

This paints a very different picture to what we’d expect with the elderly and technology. Smartphones are the most popular device for all groups of seniors, even those aged seventy and over.

They outperform desktops, laptops, and tablets. Our feeling is that this is a matter of convenience. Who wants to have to wait for their desktop or laptop to boot up when you can just look things up on your phone?

That said, you’d have thought that home assistants would be the most popular from a convenience standpoint. Again, the stats would prove you wrong. Home assistant technology and the elderly don’t seem to go well and perform the worst out of the lot.

Moreover, more seniors own an e-reader than a regular phone today. Wearables fall somewhere between home assistants and e-readers when it comes to device adoption.

Social Media Usage by Generation

We tend to be pretty hard on Millennials for the time they spend and amount of stuff they post on social media. Perhaps it’s time to ease up a little. One of the greatest benefits of technology for seniors is staying connected with their loved ones, so the older generation is also great at using social media. They perhaps just use different sites.

No self-respecting Millennial would be caught dead on Facebook – it’s now seen as a site for their parents. And the stats seem to bear that out. 61% of seniors between the ages of 50 and 59 use Facebook. Other social media sites are nowhere near as popular.

Who Doesn’t Use the Internet?

Age does seem to be a factor when it comes to the internet for elderly users. 97% of those aged between 30 and 49 use the internet. This drops to 87% for those aged between 50 and 64. For those over sixty-five, the figure drops to 66% in total.

Why Aren’t Some Seniors Using the Internet?

Is age the primary factor? Let’s have a look at what the elderly internet usage statistics can tell us here.

  • Physical infirmity prevents two out of five seniors from using the internet.
  • 78% of older users don’t see the value of using the internet.
  • 77% of senior users need help in learning how to use it.
  • 22% of those over the age of 50 stay away from the internet because they’ve been harassed.

Final Notes

It’s clear from these stats that seniors are more adept at using tech than we thought. Could teaching seniors technology tips be useful? Sure, but it’s not essential – they’re pretty good with it already.

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