September 10, 2001

Wired Seniors: Four million Americans aged 65 and over are online, sending email to family members and surfing for important informatio

A new report also reveals that age 55 is the “gray gap” dividing line

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Only 15% of those aged 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.

This extraordinary Internet cohort has some special characteristics. Many wired seniors are newcomers to the Internet who have been coaxed into going online by their children or grandchildren. 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.

Many of these findings are based on a special analysis by the Pew Internet & American Life Project of the 4,335 phone interviews it conducted across the nation with seniors last year. Some 670 of them are Internet users and the Project examines their online behavior and feelings about the Internet in a report called “Wired Seniors: A fervent few, inspired by family ties.”

As a distinct cohort, wired seniors look like the early Internet population. About 60% are men and about 40% are women. 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,” says 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.”

Here are some of the other findings highlighted in the report:

Wired seniors cite family ties as the prime reason for going online:

  • 84% of wired seniors say they first got Internet access for reasons unrelated to work or school.
  • Of those, 48% say they were encouraged to do so by family members – a higher percentage than any other age group. Another 45% say 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.

    Many older Americans are resistant to the Internet”s allure:

  • Only 21% of Americans over the age of 65 say they use a computer on “at least an occasional basis,” compared to 59% of their closest peers (age 50-64) and 64% of all Americans.
  • Fully 81% of people who say they definitely will not go online are over 50. Fifty-six percent of those over age 65 say they will definitely not go online, compared to just 6% who say they definitely plan to go online.
  • A significant shift in Internet access occurs around age 55. Some 52% of 50-54 year-olds go online. But only 43% of 55-59 year-olds use the Internet and just 34% of 60-64 year-olds have been online. A scant 23% of 65-69 year-olds go online and the numbers continue to decline from there.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project is an independent, nonpartisan research organization fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the Internet. ###