How do seniors and technology interact?
Understanding how seniors interact with technology, demystifying the idea that people over 55 do not use online tools to perform tasks that we consider common today, and showcasing the reality of a segment of the population so that we can do away with negative clichés and the troubling ageism that prevails in our society, are just a few of the objectives of the Senior Consumer Barometer, prepared, once again, in cooperation with Google to find out more about the habits of the more than 16 million Spanish people aged over 55. We would like to take this opportunity to look at aspects including, but not limited to, the relationship between digitization, technology, and this so-called digital immigrant population.
MAPFRE, Google, and Comscore analyze the digital habits of seniors in Spain.
The difference in digital skills between different population groups is known as the digital divide. In other words, older people are considered to be less adept with technology than those referred to as digital natives, as the latter group grew up with technology that is now considered common, but was not so 40 years ago (cell phones, Internet access, online banking, etc.).
However, the reality of the situation has shifted. According to several studies, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a revolution in the digital skills of seniors, for reasons that are easy to understand. Lockdown and social distancing measures meant that the only way to contact our loved ones was through video calls using Zoom, Teams, Meet, Skype, and other similar tools.
As Juan Fernández Palacios, the Manager of Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center, stated in an interview with 65YMÁS: “20 years ago there was a digital divide, but little by little it’s gotten smaller […] We need to do away with the stereotype that seniors are digitally illiterate.”
This Silver Generation is more connected than ever. It is now an empowered generation that, unlike previous generations, is clearly demonstrating that age doesn’t equate to a lack of knowledge about technological advances, quite the opposite, in fact. Going against the stereotype, technology is a fundamental way for seniors to remain connected, informed, entertained, and even to take care of their health and their home.
They are increasingly aware of technological innovations and feel comfortable with them. The most common online activities of seniors are reading the press and obtaining information through digital media, viewing multimedia content, performing banking transactions, and listening to podcasts or the radio.
Here are a few examples that debunk ageist myths about the digital habits of the senior population compared to younger people:
- You are 30% more likely to come across somebody who keeps up to date with the latest entertainment news via digital media among those over 55 compared to other age brackets.
- You are 33% more likely to come across somebody who keeps up to date with political news online among those over 55 compared to the other age brackets.
- You are 87% more likely to come across somebody aged over 55 who reads local news online compared to other age brackets.
- You are 28% more likely to come across somebody aged over 55 who reads digital business news compared to other age brackets.
To put this into perspective, since 2017 the number of digitally literate seniors has doubled, with eleven million users in Spain in the age bracket studied with fully independent mobile use. Not only do they use technology to remain informed, they also extensively use social networks, participate in online shopping, travel planning, etc., as reflected in the following chart.
What situation are seniors and technology in beyond Spain?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2021, 46% of the world’s population aged 55 to 75 used the Internet, compared to 33% in 2016; although these figures, as is to be expected, contrast significantly when looking at the regions or countries at differing stages of development.
In the United States, for example, the population aged over 65 is seeing significant growth. While in 2000 only 14% of that population were Internet users, this percentage now stands at 73%, and 53% of the population aged over 65 owns a smartphone.
This population prefers to grow old at home and technologies like the Internet, smartphones, and other devices and technologies offer them greater independence.
UK households with no Internet connection dropped from 11% to 6% after the pandemic; however, this means that even in a developed country like this, there are more than one and a half million households with no Internet connection, mainly among the senior population (especially those that are economically vulnerable). Despite this gap, 96% of the UK population between the ages of 55 and 64 use the Internet at home, as do 73% of the population aged over 65. In both age groups, knowledge of security tools and methods regarding privacy and possible deception such as phishing is strong.
In Latin America, on the other hand, although an overall analysis is impossible on account of the significant social differences between the countries that make up the region, the digital divide is more present and real, given the circumstances of developing countries where population aging and digital technologies can have a major impact on the lives of older people. Before the pandemic, in countries like Uruguay and Chile, around 20% of the population aged over 60 used the Internet, while in other countries like Honduras or El Salvador, this figure stood at around 5%. This situation is changing thanks to projects like Conecta Mayor 2.0, a finalist in the 2023 Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards, which is an application designed for non-digitized older people, allowing them to reduce the digital divide and promote autonomy and social integration.
What are the main challenges?
Internet use and mobile applications among seniors, despite their widespread implementation, still pose a number of challenges. Many people in this age bracket have difficulties understanding and using digital technologies, which can generate a lack of confidence and security when using the Internet. Additionally, older people can fall victim to online scams and fraud, which requires proper education and awareness on how to protect yourself online.