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Older Adults More Restrained in Cellphone Behavior

Respondents age 50-plus less likely than younger counterparts to chat it up in public places

Cellphones may have helped widen the generation gap when it comes to how often, and where, they’re used.

According to an AARP Bulletin poll of 1,014 people, adults ages 18 to 49 are much more likely than those 50 and older to chat on cellphones on buses and trains as well as in restaurants and while standing in store checkout lines. Half of the younger respondents say they talked on the phone in restrooms, compared with 32 percent of those age 50-plus.

Younger people seem much less concerned about talking in front of others. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of younger cellphone users say they answer their phone while riding on public transportation. But only 35 percent of those 50 and older say the same.

Similarly, 69 percent of adults ages 18 to 49 say they take cellphone calls while dining in restaurants, and 64 percent say they talk while waiting in store checkout lines. Fewer than half of those age 50-plus—about 45 percent—say they also chat in those venues.

Martha Wood, 69, isn’t one of them.

“Most people talk too loud so I find it annoying when they’re on the phone in public,” says Wood, a retired nurse practitioner in Chester, Pa. “My policy is, unless it’s an urgent call, I don’t take it. When I’m with another person, I feel they should have my attention and not be disrupted by my social calls.”

Like Wood, 61 percent of those age 50-plus say it’s “very annoying” when someone talks loudly on a cellphone in public (versus 50 percent of younger adults) or sends a text message while talking with you (versus 42 percent). What’s worse? Seventy-five percent of older adults and 66 percent of younger people says it’s very annoying to hear a ringing cellphone in a theater, library or a meeting. Among older adults, 59 percent say someone driving and talking is also very annoying, compared with 45 percent of younger people.

Driving while talking

The issue of talking on a cellphone while driving underscored another generational divide. More than half (53 percent) of the poll’s younger respondents say they talk and drive, compared with 29 percent of older folks.

About one in six people ages 18 to 49 sent text messages while driving, according to the poll; 1 percent of adults age 50 and older say they did the same.

Driving while talking or texting has captured the attention of federal and state legislators as they consider new laws to crack down on the growing problem of distracted drivers. Eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones; 25 states and the District of Columbia have banned cellphone use by novice drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 others were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2008, the latest year statistics were available, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says. Distracted drivers are those who talk, text, eat, read or perform other functions while driving.

“I never drive and talk,” says Wood, adding that she gets nervous when she sees other drivers chatting away. “I think it’s dangerous.”

Talking on cellphones during commercial airline flights was opposed by 45 percent of younger adults and 47 percent of older respondents. Forty-three percent of younger people, and 36 percent of older adults, favored cellphone use on flights.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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