Tech adoption climbs among older Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C.
May 17, 2017 10:15am
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•  Nearly two-thirds of those ages 65 and older go online

•  “Once seniors are online, they tend incorporate the internet and online activities into their everyday lives”


Nana apparently has learned something from her grade-school grandchildren: She is now much more tech savvy, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

U.S. adults ages 65 and older are moving towards more digitally connected lives, according to the new Pew survey. However, many seniors remain largely disconnected from the digital revolution.

This analysis finds that 42 percent of adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18 percent in 2013.

Fully 67 percent of seniors use the internet – a 55 percentage point increase in just under two decades – and for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.

However, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they never use the internet, and roughly half (49 percent) say they do not have home broadband services, according to the Pew survey.

Meanwhile, even with their recent gains, the proportion of seniors who say they own smartphones is 42 percentage points lower than those ages 18 to 64.

And as is true for the population as a whole, there are differences in technology adoption within the older adult population based on factors such as age, household income and educational attainment.

The data:

• Those ages 65 to 69 are about twice as likely as those ages 80 and older to say they ever go online (82 percent vs. 44 percent) or have broadband at home (66 percent vs. 28 percent), and they are roughly four times as likely to say they own smartphones (59 percent vs. 17 percent).

• 87 percent of seniors living in households earning $75,000 or more annually say they have home broadband, compared with just 27 percent of seniors whose annual household income is below $30,000.

• Educational differences follow a similar pattern, with college graduates adopting technology at much higher rates than seniors with lower levels of formal education.

These younger, relatively affluent and/or highly educated seniors are helping to drive much of the recent growth in technology adoption among the older population as a whole. For example, smartphone ownership among seniors whose annual household income is $75,000 or more increased by 39 percentage points since 2013 – 15 points higher than the growth reported among seniors overall.

“Older Americans have consistently been late adopters to new digital technology, but seniors are deepening their experiences with various forms of technology. And while older adults may face unique barriers to using and adopting new technologies, once seniors are online, they tend incorporate the internet and online activities into their everyday lives,” says Monica Anderson, lead author and research associate at Pew Research Center.

Some 34 percent of older internet users say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks. And 48 percent of seniors say that this statement describes them very well: “When I get a new electronic device, I usually need someone else to set it up or show me how to use it.”

Meanwhile, 58 percent of adults ages 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society. Roughly three-quarters of internet-using seniors say they go online at least every day and nearly one-in-ten say they go online almost constantly.

Notes on methodology

The analysis in this report is based on several Pew Research Center surveys. The main findings on technology adoption are from a telephone survey of 3,015 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 29-Nov. 6, 2016. Fully 757 respondents were interviewed on landline telephones, and 2,258 were interviewed on cellphones, including 1,342 who had no landline telephones.

The terms “seniors,” “older Americans” and “older adults” are used interchangeably in this report to denote adults living in the U.S. who are ages 65 and older.

The findings on frequency of internet use are based on a Pew Research Center phone survey conducted March 7-April 4, 2016, among a national sample of 1,520 U.S. adults. The margin of error for the full sample is of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Fully 381 respondents were interviewed on landline telephones, and 1,139 were interviewed on cellphones, including 636 who had no landline telephones.

The findings on confidence and whether people need assistance when using electronic devices is based on a phone survey of 2,752 U.S. adults conducted Oct. 13-Nov. 15, 2015. The margin of error for the full sample is of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. Fully 963 respondents were interviewed on landline telephones, and 1,789 were interviewed on cellphones, including 1,059 who had no landline telephones.

Each of these surveys was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cellphone random-digit-dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who was at home. Interviews in the cellphone sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, visit: http://www.pewresearch.org/methodology/u-s-survey-research/

The combined landline and cellphone samples are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity, and region to parameters from the 2013 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status (landline only, cellphone only or both landline and cellphone) based on extrapolations from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landlines and cellphones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with landline phones. The margins of error reported and statistical tests of significance are adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, a measure of how much efficiency is lost from the weighting procedures.

The data on perceptions of technology’s impact on society is from a survey conducted as part of the American Trends Panel (ATP), created by Pew Research Center, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults living in households. Respondents who self-identify as internet users and who provided an email address participate in the panel via monthly self-administered web surveys, and those who do not use the internet or decline to provide an email address participate via the mail. The panel is being managed by Abt SRBI. Data in this report are drawn primarily from the March wave of the panel, conducted March 2-28, 2016, among 4,726 respondents (4,243 by web and 483 by mail). The margin of sampling error for the full sample of 4,726 respondents from the March wave is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Members of the American Trends Panel were recruited from two large, national landline and cellphone random-digit-dial (RDD) surveys conducted in English and Spanish. At the end of each survey, respondents were invited to join the panel. The first group of panelists were recruited from the 2014 Political Polarization and Typology Survey, conducted from Jan. 23 to March 16, 2014.

The margin of error for the Sept. 29-Nov. 6, 2016, survey is plus or minus 2.0 percentage points.


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