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More Senior Citizens Using Internet, Smartphones

May 23, 2017

The Pew Research Center last week released the results of its latest survey examining internet use among American adults. The study indicates the digital divide between senior citizens and younger people is certainly narrowing. Specifically, Pew announced that, “for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.”

The Pew study also shows:

  • 78 percent of Americans own a desktop or laptop computer;
  • 90 percent of Americans use the internet at least occasionally, up from 46 percent in 2000;
  • 92 percent of internet users say they can go online at home;
  • 77 percent of internet users say they use the internet “almost constantly” or several times a day;
  • 95 percent of Americans have cell phones and, of those who do, 81 percent are smartphone owners;
  • 73 percent of Americans say they have broadband access at home, up from one percent in 2000;
  • Half of seniors (51 percent) have high- speed Internet at home, up from 47 percent in 2013.

Despite these gains, Pew notes that one-third of senior citizens say they never use the internet. Older seniors are the most unlikely to go online. Pew explains: “Seniors 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) …”

This could indicate that many seniors don’t use the internet because they don’t think it’s relevant to them. They aren’t looking for jobs, or taking adult education classes. Maybe they’re not even shopping online.

If that’s true, then one thing local leaders could do to help bridge the remaining divide—rather than building broadband networks—is help seniors to understand the benefits of, and how to use, tech devices. Indeed, Pew found that three-quarters of senior citizens say they need to ask for help when they buy a new device. (In contrast, only 17 percent of Americans under the age of 30 say they need help booting up.) A third of seniors say they have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks.

As the Coalition for the New Economy has argued before, there is a place for local leaders when it comes to bringing the internet to underserved populations. It just doesn’t have to mean building a taxpayer-financed broadband network.