· 05 August 2019

New technologies and elderly users

In 2018, 86.4% of households had an Internet connection and 86.1% of the population resident in Spain had used the Internet in the last 3 months. 82.5% of Spaniards are frequent Internet users (we have used it at least once a week in the last 3 months). The truth is that it is part of our daily life. It facilitates communication and the dissemination of information, although it also - undeniably - consumes part of our time. In any case, the increase in its use (both in time and in users) makes it a social phenomenon of interest. In this post, we are going to analyse the data from the Survey on equipment and use of information and communication technologies in households carried out by the INE. 

This use, although generalized, is either as democratic (meaning equal access, which does not discriminate on the basis of certain variables) as we would like to believe. The number of people who have used the Internet in the last 3 months, for example, is lower the smaller the municipality. Between the largest municipalities (more than 100,000 inhabitants) and those with less than 10,000 inhabitants there is a difference of 8 percentage points. With respect to the sex variable, the difference in users has been reducing in recent years, but women still use something less Internet than men: 85.6% compared to 86.6%. However, as we said, it has been decreasing very rapidly from 2006 to 2018 (data that we are pointing out here). The highest difference was reached in 2008: Internet users among men increased rapidly while the percentage of female users was slower, increasing the difference between the two. There is also a difference between nationals who use the Internet (85.7%) and foreigners (89.6%). This difference seems to me to be the most understandable, since when we live abroad, the easiest (and cheapest) way to communicate with "home" passes through multiple computer and mobile applications, and even more so when we live in a different time zone.

For my part, only when they invent an app that allows my mother's ham croquettes to be savoured from here will be talking about real advances in technology. In the meantime, I will show myself only moderately satisfied. But, leaving the croquettes aside and returning to our subject, the variable that registers the most difference in users is...age. As would be expected, because they have grown up exposed to new technologies, the vast majority of young people use the internet in their daily lives. Thus, almost all young people aged 16 to 24 use the internet (98.5% say they do) and also those who are a little older; people aged 25 to 34 (97.7%). Also 96.6% of those between 35 and 44 use the internet and the figure drops for the next age group (45 to 54 years) to 91% (a much smaller drop than I expected before seeing the data).

In the group approaching retirement, the first big drop of almost 15% is detected: 76.1% of those between 55 and 64 years old use the Internet. The next big drop, much bigger than the previous one, is for the elderly: with 27 percentage points less than the pre-retirement group, among people aged 65 to 74 "only" 49.1% have used the internet in the last 3 months. But can "solo" be applied here? Almost half of the population aged 65 and under uses the Internet. And here our information on the use of new technologies among older people comes to an end, because this survey does not include information on older people. This is done by other statistics, such as those on sexual behaviour, which do not include older people in Spain either. We don't have data on what percentage of people over 75 use the internet.

This survey does not take into account neither those over 75 nor those under 16 (although it does obtain information from children between 10 and 15 years old). Why this invisibility of the elderly and of childhood? The quick (and erroneous) answer would be that older people do not use the Internet. Don't they? We have seen that in the 65-74 group they do. Is the proportion of Internet users among people over 75 really so low that their analysis is of no interest? Those over 65 were included from the origin of the survey, when the percentage was very low (5.1%). And in any case, the non-inclusion of a group cannot be justified by the fact that the phenomenon is low. Why then the lack of interest in the usage patterns of those over 74? Some of my interviewees had Facebook and used it to be in contact with their relatives, but also with their friends or former acquaintances. On twitter I follow people who are surely over 70 years old. Some well-recognized twitters are over 90 (here and here, for example). Let's go back to the data we do have: 

Evolution of internet users between 65-74 for the period 2006-2018, Spain.

Source: Prepared by the authors based on data from the Survey on Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Households (National Statistics Institute). 

What is clear to me from the data is that the number of people over the age of 65 who use the Internet, albeit from time to time, has increased in recent years. This would allow us to think without fear of being mistaken that, as a trend, it also happens among those over 75. These guidelines, although we do not know the specific data, coincide with and support our theory that there is a new way of aging in society that rejects the idea of disconnection from old age. The ways of being connected change, but so do the elderly.

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal