March 25, 2004

22% of Americans age 65 and older go online

WASHINGTON – The percent of seniors who go online has jumped by 47% between 2000 and 2004. In a February 2004 survey, 22% of Americans age 65 or older reported having access to the Internet, up from 15% in 2000. That translates to about 8 million Americans age 65 or older who use the Internet. By contrast, 58% of Americans age 50-64, 75% of 30-49 year-olds, and 77% of 18-29 year-olds currently go online. Older women have led the charge and the gender ratio among “wired seniors” is now 50/50. The number of seniors who live in households with moderate amounts of income has risen dramatically, as has the number whose education ended with a high school diploma, but the online senior population is still dominated by whites, upper-income household members, and those with college degrees. “As younger Americans weave the Internet into nearly every aspect of their lives, their parents and grandparents are starting to follow suit, especially when it comes to email and information searches,” says Susannah Fox, director of research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project and author of the report, “Older Americans and the Internet.” There have been big increases since 2000 in the number of online seniors doing several key activities. It is important to stress, though, that even with these high growth rates, it is usually the case that online seniors have done these online activities at lower rates that younger Internet users.

  • 66% of wired seniors had looked for health or medical information online at some point in their online life by the end of 2003. That is a 13-point jump since 2000, and a growth rate of 25%.
  • 66% of wired seniors had done product research online by the end of 2003. That is an 18-point jump since 2000, and a growth rate of 38%.
  • 47% of online seniors had bought something on the Internet by the end of 2003. That is an 11-point increase since 2000 and a growth rate of 31%.
  • 41% have made travel reservations online by the end of 2003. That is a 16-point increase since 2000 and a growth rate of 64%.
  • 26% of wired seniors had looked for religious and spiritual information by the end of 2003. That is a 15-point jump since 2000, or a growth rate of 136%.
  • 20% of online seniors had done banking on the Internet by the end of 2003. That is a 12-point increase since 2000 and a growth rate of 150%. Despite the significant gains among seniors, most Americans age 65 and older live lives far removed from the Internet, know few people who use email or surf the Web, and cannot imagine why they would spend money and time learning how to use a computer. Seniors are also more likely than any other age group to be living with some kind of disability, which could hinder their capacity to get to a computer training center or read the small type on many Web sites. However, there is a burgeoning group of Americans who are slightly younger than retirees and who are vastly more attached to the online world. In fact, older Baby Boomer Internet users (between 50-58 years old) are more like Generation X Internet users (between 28 and 39 years old) than like their older, “Mature” generational neighbors (those between 59 and 68 years old). For example:
  • 75% of Generation X Internet users and 75% of Baby Boomer Internet users get news online, compared to 67% of Mature users.
  • 59% of Generation X Internet users and 55% of Baby Boomer Internet users do research online for their job, compared to 30% of Internet users between 59 and 68 years old. “The ‘silver tsunami’ of older Internet users is gaining momentum,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. “Internet users in their 50s who work, shop, and keep in touch with friends and family online will age into and transform the wired senior population.” The report, titled “Older Americans and the Internet,” is based primarily on survey data collected between February 3 and March 1, 2004. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet.