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Pew-Internet-Broadband-Use-Ages-65-and-Up-Apr2014Some 59% of Americans aged 65 and older report using the internet as of the second half of 2013, up 6% points from a similar time a year earlier, details the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in a recent study [pdf]. Predictably, that figure declines with age, with Americans aged 65-69 twice as likely as those aged 80 and older to go online (74% vs. 37%). As Pew notes, some segments of the older population approach general population internet adoption rates.

That’s particularly the case for those in higher-income households and with high degrees of educational attainment. Some 9 in 10 respondents with an annual household income (HHI) of at least $75,000 reported going online, which compares favorably with the general population internet usage rate of 86% (a prior Pew study had that figure at 87%). Moreover, 87% of 65+ respondents with a college degree reported going online. A report released by Pew last year similarly found that educational attainment and household income showed a strong correlation with internet use.

Aside from lower overall internet use, older Americans differ from the general population in their device preferences. While the adult population is more likely to own a smartphone (55%) than a tablet and/or e-reader (43%), the reverse is true for the 65+ group, of whom 27% own a tablet and/or e-reader compared to just 18% with a smartphone.

Not surprisingly, the 65+ age group lags in its adoption of social networking: among internet users, only 46% (27% of the 65+ group overall) use social networking sites. By comparison, some 65% of internet users aged 50-64 use social networking sites, as do a leading 90% of internet users aged 18-29.

Some factors appears to be holding older Americans back from greater adoption of the internet. These include:

  • Physical or health conditions that make reading difficult or challenging, a problem faced by 23% of survey respondents, versus 16% of the general adult population; and
  • A discomfort with learning how to use devices; just 18% expressed comfort with learning how to use a device such as a tablet or smartphone without assistance.

Nevertheless, older Americans who do use the internet tend to use it frequently: some 71% go online every day or almost every day. By comparison, 88% of 18-29-year-old internet users go online with that frequency. What’s more, 8 in 10 adults who use the internet agree that “people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing.” But just 48% of those who don’t use the internet agree, suggesting that they’re unlikely to make an effort to go online.

Other Findings:

  • Among the 65+ population, men (65%) are significantly more likely than women (55%) to go online.
  • Fewer than half (47%) of older Americans have broadband at home. This figure is again higher for males (53%), 65-69-year-olds (65%), college graduates (76%), and those with HHI of at least $75,000 (82%).
  • Slightly more than 3 in 4 older Americans have a cell phone of some kind, including 61% of those aged 80 and older. The same demographic patterns as above apply, though they are less pronounced.
  • Among the 65+ group, men are roughly 50% more likely than women (22% vs. 15%) to own a smartphone, and those with HHI of at least $75,000 are more than 5 times as likely as those with an HHI of less than $30,000 to own one (42% vs. 8%).
  • American adults aged 65 and up are as likely to own a tablet (18%) as they are to own a smartphone (18%). There is no significant disparity in tablet adoption when sorting by gender.
  • Females aged 65 and older are slightly more likely than males of that age (29% vs. 25%) to use social networking sites. Just 3% of the 65+ group use Twitter.

About the Data: The Pew Research Center Library Survey, sponsored by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Gates Foundation, obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 6,224 people ages 16 and older living in the United States. Interviews were conducted via landline (nLL=3,122) and cell phone (nC=3,102, including 1,588 without a landline phone).

The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The interviews were administered in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from July 18 to September 30, 2013. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for results based on the complete set of weighted data is ±1.4 percentage points. Results based on the 5,320 internet users have a margin of sampling error of ±1.5 percentage points.

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