Online Seniors Enthusiastic About Internet Use

Only 15 percent of Americans age 65 and older go online, but as a group they are fervent users of the Internet who love email and often use the Web to gather important information such as material to help them manage their health, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Many wired seniors are newcomers to the Internet who have been coaxed into going online by their children or grandchildren. But once they have logged on, many become eager Internet users. They are more likely than younger Americans to be online on a typical day and seniors are quite clear about the virtues they see in the Internet. The most fervent wired seniors say it has helped them connect better to loved ones and makes it easier get the information they seek.

The five top uses of the Web by senior citizens are: using email, looking up hobby information, seeking financial information, reading the news and checking weather reports.

Wired seniors look much like the early Internet population. About 60 percent are men, and wired seniors are more likely than their offline peers to be married, highly educated and enjoying relatively high retirement incomes.

“Wired seniors may be small in number, but they make up for that by their enthusiasm for doing things online,” said Susannah Fox, director of research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “More than any other age group, wired seniors see the Internet as a way to keep in touch with family members.”

More than eighty percent (84 percent) of wired seniors said they first got Internet access for reasons unrelated to work or school. Of those, 48 percent said they were encouraged to do so by family members — a higher percentage than any other age group. Another 45 percent said they first got Internet access because it was something they personally wanted to do. Very few wired seniors who first got online for personal reasons say that they were encouraged by friends to get access.

Only 21 percent of Americans over the age of 65 said they use a computer on “at least an occasional basis,” compared to 59 percent of those age 50 to 64 and 64 percent of all Americans. Eighty-one percent of people who said they definitely will not go online are over 50. Fifty-six percent of those over age 65 said they will definitely not go online, compared to just 6 percent who said they definitely plan to go online.

Internet Use by U.S. Seniors
50-54 52%
55-59 43%
60-64 34%
65-69 23%
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

The Pew survey found that a significant shift in Internet access occurs around age 55. Some 52 percent of 50 to 54-year-olds go online. But only 43 percent of 55 to 59-year-olds use the Internet and just 34 percent of 60 to 64-year-olds have been online. A scant 23 percent of 65 to 69-year-olds go online and the numbers continue to decline from there.

According to trend analysis by The Media Audit, the 50+ age group increased as a percent of the Internet audience from approximately 19 percent in l997 to more than 25 percent in 2000.

“This group is of tremendous value to marketers of a variety of products and services because of their numbers and affluence,” said Bob Jordan, co-chairman of the research firm that produces The Media Audit. “The increasing numbers for the 50-plus group demonstrate the universal appeal of the Internet, and we expect that 38 percent access rate to continue to increase steadily during the next several years.”

The 50-and-older group brings to the Internet the demographics that have made it an increasingly popular target for marketers in recent years. Nearly 33 percent have annual incomes over $50,000 a year. Of the 56 percent who are still working, 8 percent are business owners, partners or corporate officers. Among those between the ages of 55 and 64, 31 percent have liquid assets (cash, stock) in excess of $100,000 and 15 percent have liquid assets in excess of $250,000.

They also exceed the levels of travel, both domestic and international, experienced by the general population. More than 47 percent own cell phones and they are warming up to buying on the Internet. The Media Audit’s most recent data found that more than 21 percent made five or more e-commerce purchases during the past year.

“They bring great value to the Internet audience, not just because of the purchases they make personally but also because of all the purchasing decisions of others that they influence,” Jordan said. “They didn’t grow up with the personal computer. They are readers of the printed word. They are the backbone of newspaper and magazine readership. To attract them to the Internet is a remarkable achievement for the new medium.”

The over-50 segment of the population is growing rapidly and will continue to do so at least another 15 years. “The baby boomers, born between l946 and 1964 started turning 50 in 1996 and there are more than 80 million of them in the pipeline,” Jordan said. “And in addition to adding to this group in sheer numbers they will also make the group more affluent as they enter it.”

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