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Some 76% of Americans over age 50 say the internet is an important source of information for them – up from just 51% five years earlier – according to findings from AARP and the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

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The research, which is part of the larger Digital Future Project, also finds that Older Americans have embraced Web 2.0 and often use the web and several forms of social media as much or more than their younger, more tech-savvy counterparts.

Though instant messaging and video downloading still remain more popular with a younger crowd, older Americans check the internet for news more frequently than younger users and are logging onto online communities, researching purchases becoming socially active and playing games in increasing numbers.

Key findings:

  • Users 50+ go online more frequently to check for news than those under 20. Some 42% of consumers over 50 check the web for news daily or several times a day, compared with just 18% of users under 20:

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  • Among internet users 50+ who are members of online communities, 58% log in to their online community daily or several times a day, compared with 47% of members under 20:

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  • 36% of members 50 and older say their social activism has increased since they began participating in online communities for social causes, compared with 29% of members under 20.
  • 18% of users 50+ say they go online daily or several times a day to play games, compared with 22% of users under 50:

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  • 68% of users 50+ say they sometimes or often browse in retail stores and then buy online, compared with 72% of users under 50. Users in both the 50+ and the under-50 groups have similar online shopping habits:

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  • 46% of users under 50 say the internet is important or very important in maintaining their social relationships – identical to the percentage for those over 70 (though that’s not the case for cell phones):

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  • More users under 20 than those over 50 (85% vs. 76%) say the internet is an important or very important source of information. However, the percentage of those over 50 who say so has grown substantially from 2002 to 2007 – up from slightly more than half (51%).
  • Only 9% of users 50+ said instant messaging was important or very important, compared with 48% of users under 20.

“The perception is that Americans over 50 only dabble on the internet, but we are finding that they are increasingly spending time online becoming involved in robust internet activities, such as online communities,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “In specific areas, there is often little difference in use of online technology between older users and some of the youngest users.”

About the research: The Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication created and manages the World Internet Project, including the Digital Future Project, which produces a broad year-to-year exploration of the influence of the internet and online technology on Americans. Since 2000, the project has examined and compared the behavior and views of internet users and non-users.

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