Rise of the Social Seniors revealed

20 June 2017

  • Older adults take to smartphones and tablets in record numbers
  • Half of internet users aged 65-74 have a social media profile
  • But some older internet users lack confidence when online

Record numbers of older people are embracing smart and social technology, with a quarter of over-75s using tablet computers, and half of online baby boomers taking to social media.

The findings are from Ofcom’s annual Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report, which reveals how people use, understand and feel about the media and communications they rely upon each day.

This year’s report shows striking growth in older people’s use of technology between 2015 and 2016. Baby boomers aged 65-74 are increasingly connected, with four in ten (39%) using a smartphone, up 11 percentage points in a year.

There has been a sharp rise in over-75s using tablets, from 15% to 27%. And the use of smartphones among this age group has nearly doubled, from 8% to 15%.

Nearly half (48%) of internet users aged 65-74 now have a social media profile. Among over 75s, the proportion with a profile has nearly doubled – from 19% to 41%.

Around nine in ten (87%) social seniors aged over 65 opt for a Facebook account, but a smaller proportion use WhatsApp (6%) and YouTube (1%).

But while 44% of over-75s go online, more than half do not, and most of these (86%) have no plans to do so.

Smartphone use among over-75s has risen from 5% in 2013 to 15% in 2016

Digital behaviour

Ofcom’s research finds that older adults are more connected than ever, but this generation still spend less than half the amount of time online than the younger generation. Over-65s spend 15 hours online each week, compared to 32 hours among 16-24s.

Social seniors aged over 65 also have different experiences online. Seven in ten (72%) over-65s said they have not seen anything to offend or upset them in the last year, compared to 56% of adults generally.

This may reflect older users’ more limited use of the online world. Most over-75s (51%) are ‘narrow’ internet users, meaning they typically carry out limited online activities - this compares to the average of 28%.

Percentage of over-75s with a social media account has gone from 13% in 2012 to 41% in 2016

Social savviness

While older internet users are increasingly active online, some older people lack online confidence. A fifth (20%) of people over 65 describe themselves as ‘not confident’ online, much higher than the average (7%).

One reason could be that many older users are new to the internet. Some 21% of internet users over-75 went online for the first time in the last five years – twice the wider average.

For those older internet users lacking confidence, this is particularly pronounced when managing personal data. Almost one in five internet users over 65 say that are ‘not at all confident’ about this.

And 16% of internet users over 55 said they ‘never’ consider the data or privacy implications when posting photos online – the largest proportion to say ‘never’ among all age groups.

60% of 65-74 year olds and 72% of over-75s aren't aware of personalised advertising, and 16% of over-55s never consider data or privacy when posting photos

Some older internet users were also unsure about sponsored links in search results. A quarter (27%) of search engine users aged over 75 said they were unsure, and less than half (46%) felt able to identify sponsored links.

Similarly, awareness of personalised advertising seems to be lower among some older users – with seven in ten (72%) over 75s, and six in ten (60%) 65-74s saying they were unaware of this type of advertising, compared to the average of 44%.

Alison Preston, Head of Media Literacy at Ofcom, said: “The UK’s older generation is beginning to embrace smart technology, and using it to keep in touch with friends and family.

“But some older people lack confidence online, or struggle to navigate search results. Many are new to the internet, so we’d encourage people to help older friends or family who need support getting connected.

“People can find practical advice and information on the Ofcom website.”