Older web users catching up: Pew report

Older adults are swiftly closing the generation gap when it comes to internet activity, with more mature populations now surpassing younger crowds in some online habits, says the Pew Internet Project's Generations 2010 report.
Older Boomers (ages 56-65) were more likely than the Millennials (ages 18-33) to do things such as visit government websites or seek financial information online, according to a recent report. ((iStock))
If grandma surfs Facebook, she's certainly not alone in her demographic.

Older adults are swiftly closing the generation gap when it comes to internet activity, with more mature populations now surpassing younger crowds in some online habits.

So says the Pew Internet Project's Generations 2010 report, which analyzed U.S. web trends broken down by age groups. While adults between ages 18 and 45 make up about 56 per cent of the online population, it was the so-called Older Boomers (ages 56-65) who were more likely than the Millennials (ages 18-33) to do things such as visit government websites or seek financial information online.

The Pew data, released Thursday, showed that 69 per cent of Older Boomers in the U.S. survey had visited government websites, compared with 61 per cent of the younger group. When it came to searching for financial information online, the older group again dominated (41 per cent), with 33 per cent of the Millennials using the web for money matters.

"It's showing the internet's growth or surge with older internet users," said Kathryn Zickhur, the Pew web co-ordinator who wrote the report.

"One of the activities that jumped out at me was that now, 53 per cent of the very oldest internet users have made travel reservations or arrangements online," she told CBC News. "So that's the majority of internet users over age 74. To me, that's very surprising that such a high percentage would be doing that."

The most tech-savvy group, the Millennials, were the most likely to make travel bookings online, but Zickhur noted that the Silent Generation (ages 65-73) were not lagging too far behind.

"They had a similar number, 61 per cent of the second-oldest generation, and that's a pretty level curve."

Online social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter are most popular among Millennials (83 per cent), but more and more older cohorts are also logging on themselves.

Fifty-eight per cent of Gen X users listened to music online, followed by 48 per cent of the Younger Boomers.

The fastest growth in usage of social networking sites came from users who were 74 and older. Social network site usage for the oldest cohort quadrupled since 2008, from four per cent to 16 per cent. "Social networking sites is also a major area of growth, especially for the younger and older boomers, as well as members of Gen X," Zickhur said.

Millennials led the way for listening to music online (65 per cent), but whereas they were once the most avid listeners by far in a 2004 Pew report, the Gen Xers (ages 34-45) and the Younger Boomers (ages 45-55) have nearly caught up.

Fifty-eight per cent of Gen X users listened to music online, followed by 48 per cent of the Younger Boomers.

Questionnaires were conducted between April 29 and May 30 of this year, with 2,252 adults interviewed in the U.S. The study has a margin of error of plus-minus 2.7 per cent.