The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology for older Americans. While social distancing and quarantines called for physical separation between friends and family, older adults have turned to technological devices to stay connected.
According to the AARP's Tech Trends and the 50-Plus report, annual spending on tech has more than doubled for adults aged 50 and over since 2019. One-third of the respondents in the report say they now use tech devices like home assistants and wearables, and many are using technology to help them meet a number of needs, from social connection to managing their health and pursuing creative interests.
Technology helps seniors stay connected
More than 70% of people between the ages of 50 to 80 say they rely on technology to stay connected, with those in their 50s (76%) and 60s (79%) being most reliant. As with other age groups, texting is a leading way to stay connected, but older adults use other means as well. Here's what people year-over-year trends looked like:
- 92% used texting in 2020 and 2021
- 89% used email in 2021 versus 90% in 2020
- 67% used video chat in 2021, down from 70% in 2020
- 74% used social media, down from 78% in 2020
The pandemic has ushered a shift toward using smart devices, not just to stay in touch with family and friends, but for the sake of convenience, health and overall personal enrichment. In 2020, more older adults reported using their devices to do everything from pursuing a new interest or taking an online course, to ordering groceries and accessing health services. That trend has continued in 2021.
Here's why people over 50 say they use technology:
- Connect with others (66%)
- Entertainment (59%)
- Help manage responsibilities (47%)
- Stay healthy (43%)
- Learn a new skill (38%)
- Pursue a passion (36%)
Older adults face obstacles to using technology
While adoption becomes more common, some older adults still report experiencing obstacles to using newer technology. Respondents note challenges related to complexity, poor user experience and insufficient training materials, and many say technology is not designed with older adults in mind (39% of adults 50 to 59, 40% of adults 60 to 69 and 45% of adults over 70).
Between inflation concerns and delayed retirement, a variety of financial burdens are weighing on older Americans, and staying connected is on that list for some. In the AARP survey, respondents noted the expense of paying for internet service as another obstacle for them, with 56% saying that cost is a problem. Limited access to high-speed internet for people living in rural areas was noted as well.
Despite that, spending on tech has grown significantly since the onset of the pandemic. From 2019 to 2020 annual spending increased from $394 to $821. While tech spending leveled off in 2021, 70% of respondents say they made a tech purchase. One-third (35%) of respondents over 50 now own a home assistant and 30% own wearables, versus just 17% who owned each type of device in 2019.
Methodology: An online survey of 3,025 U.S. adults (including 2,063 adults 50 years and older) was conducted in English and Spanish by NORC’s research panel and Dynata from Sept. 14 to Oct. 14, 2021.