Older adults use of social media skyrockets in the last year

When people think of internet use and social media there tend to be unspoken assumptions that older adults are not participating to the same degree as their younger counterparts. Well, think again. This appears to be old news. A recent report written by Mary Madden for the Pew Research Center details the significant increase in  social media use among older demographics  -  a change that is most significant just in this past year. While use of social media has spread across all age groups the most dramatic increase has been in the 50 and older age group. Specifically, use of social media for this group has gone up from 22% to 42% - or in other words - almost doubled.

While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools. Although email continues to be the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, many users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications—sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts.

The report identifies a number of reasons for this increased use, such as organizations like AARP working to promote social media participation among older adults. However, perhaps the dramatic increase may be more simply a result of a critical mass of internet use in that age group. More and more older people know of their peers' adoption of social media and this will certainly serve as a major encouragement to join for those who haven't already done so. Many older users have also recently experienced the quintessential facebook experience of reconnecting with old friends and classmates. This in turn becomes a powerful draw for others who have not yet participated.

Older adults use the internet in much the same way as other age groups, say for online banking or reading the news, but they also participate actively in networking activities with family and friends. And, as people age and become more susceptible to health issues the internet becomes more and more important as a networking lifeline and a source of information.

There are two activities which stand out among people living with chronic disease: blogging and participating in online health discussions. When other demographic factors are held constant, having a chronic disease significantly increases an internet user’s likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv, or other forum that helps people with personal issues or health problems.


The report also points out for us that social media can provide an effective and unusual venue for generations to 'intersect' on a daily basis.

It is a serious mistake to imagine that in spite of initial resistance to getting online, or a perhaps more slow adoption of online tools, older adults do not become as adept and committed users as younger people.

However, even though older adults may be among the most resistant to broadband, there is evidence that once these users get a taste of high-speed access, they often come to rely on the internet as an everyday utility in their lives.

For anyone whose organization reaches out to older adults this information is extremely important and exciting. Online opportunities for connecting with the older segments of our population are vast and growing.

See this summary chart from the Pew Research report:

Pew Research Center - chart of social networking among older users

Read the full report here.

Mainsail through time