Tech Adoption Among Americans Ages 50 and Up Sees Steady Growth

January 14, 2019

Older Americans are not being left behind in the age of technology, and are adopting dominant technologies like smartphones, computers and tablets at a steady rate. In fact, three-quarters reported owning a smartphone in 2018, which is up some 5% points from the year before. That’s according to an AARP survey [PDF] of more than 1,500 US adults ages 50 years and older.

Computer ownership for this group is now very high, with nearly total penetration (91%). Laptop ownership has gone up slightly to 65% from the previous year (62%), but desktop ownership remains stagnant at 61%.

Interestingly, tablet ownership within the 50+ age group has also remained stagnant, at 42% (versus 43% in 2017). Previous research has found that Americans ages 65+ have a ways to go before reaching average adoption levels for these devices.

Older Consumers Use Tech to Stay Connected

People within the 50+ age group are using their devices first and foremost to stay connected. Some 9 in 10 of those surveyed are using them to send emails, text messages and/or IM. Another 86% are using tech to surf the web.

Shopping is another popular use of tech with 50+ users, with four-fifths (81%) making purchases online. Great comfort with making purchases online could prove a boon for online retailers, given older adults’ above-average incomes and disposable spending.

Online Safety Remains A Concern

Standing in the way of that comfort, potentially will be decreasing confidence in online safety. Only 17% of survey respondents reported feeling extremely/very confident in their safety when using wireless devices in 2018, compared to 19% the year prior.

Confidence also decreases with age. One in 5 respondents age 50-59 years were confident of their online privacy, but only 15% of those age 70 and up concurred.

Roughly half (48%) felt that their banks and financial institutions would keep their personal data safe and secure, while only 7% believed that social media sites would keep their personal data safe. No doubt some of this distrust in social media arises from the data sharing activities of Facebook et al, that has had widespread media coverage during the past year.

Interest in Tech is Not Just for the Younger Generation

Here are some points of interest about how older consumers from the survey view new technology:

  • Half of the respondents were interested in learning about new technology, about double the proportion (23%) not interested.
  • Men (56%) are more interested in new technology than women (45%).
  • Nearly half (49%) currently own a smart TV, with another 8% intending to purchase one in the coming year.
  • Home assistance ownership has also risen, having grown by 6% points, from 7% in 2017 to 13% in 2018.
  • Playing games (63%) is the top entertainment/educational activity these adults do on their computers, tablets or smartphones.

Further survey results can be found here.

About the Data: AARP surveyed 1,546 US adults age 50+. The online survey was conducted in November 2018.


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