Older Americans are increasingly drawn to new technology, according to a new AARP national survey, but they often do not take full advantage of their devices, and they are concerned about privacy issues online.
In the past year, 51 percent of older Americans say they bought some tech product. The top purchases:
- smartphone (23%)
- computer or laptop (12%)
- smart television (11%)
- tablet (10%)
- smart home technology or device (12%)
- wearable device (7%)
Although people ages 50 and older use smartphones, wearable technology, and smart home technology at about the same pace as younger adults, device preferences vary among people of different ages. Those under 50 are losing interest in tablets, for example, but those over 50 continue to buy them, with more than half owning one.
Although older adults expressed enthusiasm for trying out new devices, their responses indicate they don’t always use the tech to its full potential. For instance, while about half (49%) of Americans own a smart television, just 42 percent use its streaming or online features to watch shows.
The study found that the generation gap in smartphone adoption is narrowing. In the past two years, smartphone adoption has jumped from 70 percent to 77 percent among older adults.
In 2014, when 8 in 10 younger Americans owned a smartphone, only half of adults over 50 owned one. Today, smartphone adoption is 86 percent among Americans age 50 to 59 and 81 percent for those 60 to 69. Meanwhile, 62 percent of those 70 and older use smartphones.
Still, younger users are more likely to report using their smartphones on a daily basis. When older Americans use them, it’s most often for email, directions, online searches, or checking social media.
Emerging Home Security and Smart Tech Market
AARP finds consumers over 50 are helping fuel the demand for smart home technology, such as home monitoring, security systems, home assistants, and smart appliances. Many find the products are convenient and give them peace of mind. Although many adults ages 50 and older are interested in buying smart home safety technology, just 10 percent of older Americans are using these safety devices now.
Older individuals are particularly interested in using smart home and security tech to see who is at the front door (59%), automatically shut off appliances (42%), control a thermostat (38%), detect a fall or get emergency help (39%), and monitor doors and windows (48%).
Yet older Americans also see a downside: Only about 1 in 10 are very or extremely confident that their interactions with any smart home technology will be kept private.
Leveraging Health and Wellness Benefits
Older adults welcome voice-activated home assistants. Ownership of home assistants such as smart speakers has more than doubled in the past two years. Just 4 percent of consumers over 50 used a device in 2017 compared to 17 percent today. Most report the devices are somewhat or very helpful, although 67 percent also say the home assistants sometime or always misunderstand them.
Three in four older Americans want to stay in their homes and age in place, and technology that allows them to get help in an emergency or track their health virtually can be critical to helping them achieve that goal. About 40 percent of respondents indicate they were interested in using technology that would remind them to take medicine and tell their health-care provider if they took it. Another 21 percent are open to videoconferencing with their health care providers, the study finds.
If offered a choice, about 53 percent of respondents say they would prefer to have their health care needs managed by a mix of medical staff and health care technology.
Data privacy is a concern among older individuals who use wearable tech. While 66 percent of older adults say they’re comfortable sharing personal health-related information from wearable devices with health care providers, 30 percent would not share it at all. Just 8 percent of those over 50 feel comfortable sharing digitally tracked health information on social media, AARP finds.
Building Social Connections Online
Three quarters of all adults ages 50 and older use social media on a regular basis, primarily Facebook, followed by YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Older Americans most often sign on to social networks on smartphones (55%), followed by computers (47%) and tablets (41%). They are drawn to these sites to stay connected with friends and family.
AARP conducted the survey of adults ages 50+ in July and August 2019. The 15-minute online survey was given in both English and Spanish. The national sample of 2,607 was weighted to reflect the demographics for American adults over 50 using the market research firm Ipsos.
Nelson Kakulla. Brittne. 2020 Tech Trends of the 50+. Washington, DC: AARP Research, January 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00329.001