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2016 Technology Trends among Mid-Life and Older Americans

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As Americans age 50 and older continue to grow their adoption of personal technology at an impressive rate, this report tracks technology attitudes and behaviors among this group over time. Highlights include device ownership, online activities, attitudes toward privacy, and the use of technology to stay connected with family and friends.

Device Adoption

  • Portable device adoption such as smartphones and tablets continues to grow among Americans age 50+, while adoption of traditional computing has flattened or declined.

    • Over three quarters of adults 50+ (76%) own some type of computing device (desktop, laptop, or tablet).
  • Over half of Americans over age 50 own a smartphone device. Smartphone ownership is up ten percentage points over July 2014 and 25 points since 2013.

    • Nearly nine in ten (89%) adults over 50 own some type of mobile device and nearly three quarters of adults age 50-59 (73%) own a smartphone.
  • Four in ten Americans age 50+ own a tablet, up six percentage points from last year and ten points from 2014.

    • Tablet ownership among adults 50-59 has grown to over half (51%), up eleven percentage points from 2 years ago.
  • One in ten (11%) adults over 50 own a wearable device.

    • Newer technology such as wearables have lower adoption rates; however, younger adults are more likely to own such a device than those over 70.

Online Activities

  • Email and surfing the internet top the list of activities done on a computer or tablet by Americans age 50+.

    • Among those who own such devices, top 5 activities are sending emails (82%), surfing the internet (81%), getting news (77%), getting directions or traffic info (72%), and making purchases (70%).
  • Among those who own smartphones, top mobile activities include sending email (91%), getting directions/traffic info (79%), getting news (72%), visiting websites (70%), and accessing social media (62%).

    • Those who own mobile devices but do little with them besides email, are becoming more rare.  Sixteen percent of smartphone owners did nothing but email in 2012 vs. just 7% today. Those 70+ are most likely to be in this group (20% of owners only use email).
  • Seven in ten (71%) of those with devices say they use technology to stay in touch with friends and family.

    • Texting has overtaken email as the most used mode of communicating for those 50-59.
  • Privacy is still an issue for most older adults: just 20% of those 50+ are extremely/very confident that their data are kept private online.

The data presented in this report are from AARP’s Attitude, Trend, & Opinion Monitor (ATOM). ATOM is an ongoing telephone survey administered to a national ABS-based sample of adults age 50 and older. The monthly sample (n=1500) is stratified by AARP membership status and age using AARP’s member and prospect databases, and the final data are weighted to reflect the U.S. adult 50 and older population. The survey is administered continuously by AARP’s research partner Precision Opinion. The most current data contained in this report were collected from July 1, 2016-July 31, 2016. For more information contact GAnderson@aarp.org.

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