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How Different Age Groups Use Internet Services Differently

By Guest Writer on May 19, 2022


internet usage age groups

Internet penetration generates opportunities that can improve people’s well‐being. However, the existence of digital gaps can lead to a scenario where only a few benefits from these opportunities. The generational gap, understood as the differences in access and use of technologies between the older and the younger generations, is one of the most important ones.

Despite the existence of this gap, very little is known about the Internet appropriation process and the evolution of the usage patterns of older users. “Different Paths and Same Destinations” delves into the convergence of this appropriation patterns once users have already accessed the Internet, emphasizing the effects of these two channels.

Age Groups Use Internet Differently

Using quantitative data from three Latin American cities (Buenos Aires, Lima, and Guatemala City), our analysis finds a difference in favor of the younger age groups (young and adults) in most activities, except for the use of social networks for work or professional purposes, the use of online banking, and the use of online government procedures, which are much more common amongst mature and older adults.

Also, there is a significant difference in favor of the younger group in the number of activities that the members of each age group perform. Particularly, there is an average difference of 0.5 activities between the youth and the adults, an average difference of 1.2 activities between the youth and the mature adults, and an average difference of 1.3 activities between the youth and the older adults.

A Convergence in Internet Usage

We also find that the Internet appropriation process follows a progressive path that sustains the hypothesis that there is an Internet use convergence pattern that happens when individuals increase their experience using it. In a first stage access to information, communication, or other basic activities are incorporated.

Then, once these tools are assimilated, a more intensive use of the Internet begins, incorporating recreational purposes. Finally, users incorporate more sophisticated activities, usually related with educational, work, or government‐related purposes. Even though older adults keep a constant difference with the younger group, more sophisticated uses also become more frequent with more experience.

Moreover, the velocity in which these processes happen differs by age group. Data show that younger users quickly incorporate several activities as soon as they start using the Internet (around 8 of the 13 activities considered), while users who are older than 60 start performing an average of four activities.

Then, with the increase of Internet experience, older users begin incorporating activities that the younger users already performed; this way, the initial gap starts to close. However, this process is much less intense for older adults who adopt additional activities with more experience on the Internet but fail to reach the level of the younger users.

Older Adults Are Internet Users

This paper shows older adults adopting the Internet and being capable of seizing the opportunities that the Internet gives them but at a different pace than younger users do. This is why efforts or policies designed to include older adults should take into account their particular appropriation processes.

Although most of our analysis shows a convergence pattern in Internet usage, it is also true that the gap between the youth and the older adults persists yet in a smaller magnitude. This opens the door to interventions that could give support to older adults’ learning and Internet appropriation processes, getting them started on the web.

Estimations show that participation in educational centers, as well as better appreciation of the Internet, have strong effects on the incorporation of new activities. Also, relationships inside the household, as well as informal learning spaces, have proven to be very effective to include this population. Incorporating these insights in the design of public policies is crucial to improve older adults’ experience with the Internet.

A lightly edited synopsis of Different Paths and Same Destinations by Roxana Barrantes and Eduardo Vargas

Filed Under: Connectivity, Featured
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