Tech Usage Among Older Adults Skyrockets During Pandemic

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

In a year with a global pandemic significantly limiting social interaction, technology became more important than ever, especially for older adults. New research from AARP found that more older adults (44%) view tech more positively as a way stay connected than they did before COVID-19. In addition, 4 out of 5 adults age 50+ rely on technology to stay connected and in touch with family and friends.

Yet, the report also found that the greater adoption and reliance on technology is uneven, as 15% of adults 50+ do not have access to any type of internet, and 60% say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem.

"Technology enabled older adults to better weather the isolation of the pandemic, from ordering groceries to telehealth visits to connecting with loved ones," said Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research at AARP. "But it also exacerbated the divide. So much more is done online, and the 38 million disconnected older adults are being further left out."

AARP 2021 Tech Trends Report Key Findings:

  • Annual tech spending by the 50+ exponentially increased – from $394to $1144. The top three tech purchases were smartphones, smart TVs and earbuds/Bluetooth headsets.

  • Using technology to connect with others across multiple forms of communication has increased since the onset of the pandemic. Many say they are using video chats (45%), texting (37%), emailing (26%), and phone (29%) more now than before the pandemic. As of 2019, about half had never used video chat, but by 2020, 70% have, with 1 in 3 using video chat weekly.

  • Tech use among the 50+ increased particularly in wearable devices – from 17% to 27%.

  • 50+ use of smartphones increased dramatically. For instance, use for ordering groceries grew from 6% to 24%; use for personal health increased from 28% to 40% for activities like telehealth visits, ordering prescriptions, or making appointments; use for health and fitness information increased 25% to 44%; and use for financial transactions increased 37% to 53%.

  • Half of the 50+ want to learn more about using tech (54%).

  • Cost (38%), awareness/lack of knowledge (37%) and privacy concerns (34%) are the top self-reported barriers holding the 50+ back from adopting new technology.

  • Privacy concerns continue to be a factor when it comes to tech, with 83% lacking confidence that what they do online remains private.

  • Weekly use of streaming increased to 58% from 44%, a significant shift in how the 50+ consume entertainment.

AARP has a long history of providing personal technology resources including digital literacy initiatives, practical guidebooks and advocacy on technology issues for the 50+. As part of AARP's work advocating for low-cost high-speed internet solutions for older adults the organization recently supported the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. This program is available to subsidize broadband service for eligible Americans during the pandemic. AARP is collaborating with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct education and outreach to let people know about the EBB program.

To access the full report, please visit www.aarp.org/2021techtrends.