Posted April 1st, 2012

Seniors and Broadband: A New Report You May Not Be Reaching Your Best Prospects

Internet use by people over 65 is growing very slightly, but it continues to lag far behind use by all other age groups. Many in this demographic have made it thus far without becoming familiar with computers or other technologies and see no reason to start now. Those who have had some experience with computers often choose to abandon them as technology becomes more advanced and, to someone older, too complicated to bother with.

Until younger boomers begin to move in large numbers into the ranks of the 65+ demographic, it is not likely that Internet use will grow very much among older people:

  • People 65 and older are least likely to have home high-speed broadband service—almost 70 percent do not have it.
  • This age group is in no hurry to adopt broadband.
  • The 65+ group does not view a lack of this access as a major disadvantage.
  • The lowest Internet use is among those 75+.

Gift planners should keep these facts in mind since, according to the American Council on Gift Annuities, more than 80 percent of all gift annuities come from people over age 75. Other studies show the majority of bequests come from wills executed after the age of 75.

Internet access

The most recent Pew Internet survey found that 66 percent of Americans have high-speed broadband at home, unchanged from April 2009 findings.

Among those 65 and older, the percentage with broadband rose by just 1 point (from 30 to 31 percent) from 2009 to 2010. Fewer than 20 percent of those 65 and older believe broadband is necessary for them to keep up with local or national news, use government resources, learn something new or get health information.

Although most do not have access at home—and believe home access is not necessary for them—44 percent of those 65 and up report that they occasionally go online. Where, how often and why are unknown. It may be safe to assume that their children or grandchildren are offering some guidance.

A Feb. 27, 2012, U.S. News blog post entitled “Technology Still a Big Disconnect for Older Americans” reported on a Linkage survey that, among other things, asked older adults how they would prefer to acquire high-tech skills. According to the report, they “strongly preferred to be taught one-on-one by someone they trusted. Their first choice for guidance? Their doctors.”

The situation may not change much as boomers age. Scott Collins, president of Linkage, says, “People think that somehow boomers are going to trump biology” by being able to stay proficient with technology, “but it’s not going to happen.” Physical limitations that inevitably come with age, including poor eyesight and arthritis, make using technology such as smart phones and computers difficult and uncomfortable for many older persons.

Laurie Orlov, a consultant who worked on the Linkage report, observes those who resist change (as many older people do) may be left in the dust of technology. “And those who are resistant to rapid change,” she says, “will be those who have lived the longest and want to hold on to what they know and like.”

The message here is clear: If you want to reach those over 65 today, do not rely solely on the Internet. Just ask the Social Security Administration, which announced last year that it would stop sending paper statements that explain benefits, instead planning to offer it online. Not surprisingly to experts in the field, the SSA recently reversed that decision and will once more send paper statements to older benefit recipients.

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