Technology and the Internet

In 2010, half of those aged 65–74 years accessed the Internet at home, compared with one in five people aged 75–84 years, and one in 20 of those aged 85 years or over.

The Internet offers many ways to help older people live happy, healthier and more productive lives in their own homes for longer. The report Older Australians and the Internet,15 released by National Seniors Australia in 2011, provided results from a review of existing research and a survey of its members. Findings included:

  • the barriers to Internet use. These included: geographical, financial and physical constraints; illness; lack of transport; the lack of skills to use online resources; no time or interest; and concerns about information security.16
  • strategies and initiatives to encourage Internet use. These included free, convenient and better learning facilities (including better publicity); less expensive computers and Internet connections; training courses and materials that incorporate older people's lack of basic skills and high levels of anxiety; and website designers who take into consideration older web users.17
  • the potential benefit of the Internet. The Internet has a great deal of potential benefit for older people, enabling them to undertake information searches, learn, bank, shop, email, form social support networks, engage in civil or political activities, and access e-health.18
  • the importance that online services complement and enhance availability of direct human service rather than substitute for it.19

The ABS 2010 General Social Survey indicates that computer and Internet use drops sharply for those aged 65 years and over, relative to younger ages, with very few of those aged 85 years and over using these technologies (see Table 7).

Table 7: Persons aged 18 years and over, computer and Internet use by age group, 2010
  18–24 25–34 35–44 45–54 55-64 65–74 75–84 85 or over All persons

Source: ABS 2010 General Social Survey

  Percentage
Used computer at home in last 12 months 93.9 94.5 90.5 85.2 74.1 57.3 26.5 13.4 80.3
Accessed the Internet at home in last 12 months 90.6 92.1 88.4 83.0 69.8 51.3 18.5 4.4 76.8
  Number ('000)
All persons aged 18 years or over 2,191.4 3,144.9 3,119.4 3,004.4 2,514.9 1,601.9 937.4 273.9 16,788.2

More recent data on the use of information technology by older Australians can be found in the ABS 2012-13 Household Use of Information Technology survey,20 which also provides a comparison with younger groups. This confirms the significant difference between those under 65 years and older people in their Internet use (see Table 8).

Table 8: Persons aged 15 years and over, Internet access by age group, 2012–13
  Accessed the Internet at any site (%) Total persons (‘000)

Source: ABS Household Use of Information Technology survey, 2012-13

Age groups (years)    
15–17 97 929
18–24 96 2,077
25–34 96 3,428
35–44 94 3,178
45–54 89 3,058
55–64 78 2,630
65 or over 46 3,102

The most common use of the Internet at home for older people was paying bills or banking online (55%), followed by accessing government services (50%) and social networking and voice/video calls (both 30%). Downloading videos, movies or music was the least common of the listed activities (13%) (see Table 9).

Table 9: Older persons, activities performed on the Internet at home, 2012-13
  Percentage

Source: ABS Household Use of Information Technology survey, 2012-13

Paying bills or banking online 55
Accessing government services 50
Social networking 30
Voice or video calls over the Internet 30
Educational purposes 23
Listening to music or watching videos or movies online 23
Playing and downloading games 16
Downloading videos, movies or music 13
No listed activities 14
Older persons who accessed the Internet at home (‘000) 1,363

Education

One factor that may be related to the use of technology is the level of education of older people. Information from a number of data collections, including the ABS General Social Survey, show that older people have generally attained lower levels of education than younger cohorts. Only 30% of persons aged 65–74 years and around 17% of those aged 75 and over completed Year 12, and most did not go past Year 9 (37% of 65–74 year olds; 53% of 75–84 year olds; 64% of those aged 85 years or over).

In contrast, younger generations have much higher levels of education, with more than 70% of those aged less than 45 years having a non-school qualification and close to three-quarters of those aged less than 35 years completing Year 12 (see Table 10).

Table 10: Persons aged 18 years and over, educational attainment by age group, 2010
  18–24 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–64 65–74 75–84 85 or over All persons

Source: ABS 2010 General Social Survey

Highest year of school completed Percentage (%)
Year 12 72.1 73.9 61.5 47.6 40.2 27.9 16.1 18.4 53.1
Year 9 or below 4.2 3.3 6.0 9.5 20.1 36.5 52.8 63.8 14.5
Level of highest non-school qualification                  
No non-school qualification 56.8 27.4 29.2 35.1 41.8 53.5 73.9 70.6 40.9
  Number ('000)
All persons aged 18 years or over 2,191.4 3,144.9 3,119.4 3,004.4 2,514.9 1,601.9 937.4 273.9 16,788.2

15 Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide <http://www.nationalseniors.com.au/be-informed/research/publications/bridging-digital-divide>

16 Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide <http://www.nationalseniors.com.au/be-informed/research/publications/bridging-digital-divide>. p 8

17 Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide <http://www.nationalseniors.com.au/be-informed/research/publications/bridging-digital-divide>. p 9

18 Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide <http://www.nationalseniors.com.au/be-informed/research/publications/bridging-digital-divide>. p 11, 18

19 Older Australians and the Internet: Bridging the Digital Divide <http://www.nationalseniors.com.au/be-informed/research/publications/bridging-digital-divide>. p 20

20 ABS 2010 Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2014-15 <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8146.0>

Next: Ageing in Australia: Government-funded services

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