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Digital divide grows for older Britons as others connect to new media

Digital divide grows for older Britons as others connect to new media

Angela Balakrishnan
Friday March 16, 2007
The Guardian

Mobile phones, the internet and digital televisions are increasingly transforming the lives of many British people - but also leaving millions of others stranded on the other side of the digital divide, a report said yesterday [pdf].

While recent years have seen a rapid rise in the use of technology, the Office for National Statistics said there was a growing gap between older people and lower income households who have little or no access to new technology and higher income households who are far more likely to have internet access.

The impact of websites such as eBay is reflected by figures which show that the percentage of adults in the UK who used the internet to sell goods doubled last year to 18% from the level recorded in 2003-04.

Apart from using the internet for buying and selling, more than 80% of individuals turn to it as a source of information or to send emails. Personal banking also rose to 43%. Music downloading is attempted by the more adventurous, with 40% of households accessing music online.

Overall, the ONS study found that Britain is fast becoming a nation that is better connected; the crossover year is seen as 2003, with more households having an internet connection than not having one. The number of broadband connections also overtook narrow band connections two years ago.

However, the study showed that 55% of over-50s had not used a computer in the past three months, compared with 13% of people aged 16 to 30. More than 90% of households in the highest income group have internet access, dropping to less than 20% for low earners.

"We live in an increasingly connected society, with the rapid advance of information and communication technology in business and in the home," the ONS said. "But by no means everyone has joined the digital age."

Although nearly a half of all households in the UK had internet access, digital TV service or one or more mobile phones last year, the report said that one in 12 households, or 8%, did not have access to any of these. Low income households were more likely to own a mobile phone or have digital television rather than internet access or a computer.

Income differences were reflected in the regional variations of household internet use. London, where households earn the highest average weekly income in the country - £766 - had the largest percentage of homes with internet access, while in the north-east, where the average weekly income is £455, only 44% of homes could access the internet, 14% less than the capital.

The biggest factor stopping the older generation from using the internet was a lack of interest or knowledge.

The research found that those of a working age saw the largest growth in use of the internet due to their jobs. The split between men and women of this age group of 16-65 was fairly equal. However, for the over-65s, women were found to be more technologically savvy, with 55% of females using the internet last year, compared to 43% of males.

OFCOM did a study last year — Media Literacy Audit: Report on media literacy amongst older people.

Amnogst other things it found:

Attitudes and preferences

  • Over half of those aged 65 and over say they would miss television the most out of an array of media activities. One in five says they would miss the radio most, and one in 10 newspapers. The figures for both radio and newspapers are higher than for the UK adults as a whole.
  • Nearly two in five (37%) of people aged 65 and over spend ‘all or nearly all’ of their leisure time at home, compared to 17% of all UK adults. Those with a disability, those aged 75+, and those living alone are more likely to do so.
  • Some 40% of those aged 65 or over say that they try to keep up with new technology, and 43% say they are interested in it (compared to 66% and 68% for all UK adults). Nearly 70% of older people say that they like technology to be simple and straightforward, compared to 59% of all UK adults.
  • One in eight (13%) older people says they would like to learn more about various elements of media, compared to 32% of all adults. Some 7% of older people say they are interested in learning about the internet, and 7% say they have already learned about it through classes or training. Those aged over 75, and those living alone, are significantly less likely to express interest in, or say that they have learned already, about aspects of the media.
  • Just over two thirds (68%) of internet users aged 65 and over use it for communication on a weekly basis, only slightly less than all UK adult internet users (72%). Nearly one-third use the internet for transactions (for example banking, or shopping) on a weekly basis. Over one quarter use it to look at news. Overall breadth of use however is narrower than that of all UK adults.
  • Some 34% of older people know how the BBC website is mainly funded, compared to 46% of all UK adults. One in ten older people knows the main way of funding for search engine websites, compared to 25% of all UK adults. This reflects the lower penetration of the internet amongst older people.
  • Nearly half of older internet owners (44%) say they are confident about blocking viruses and spam, compared to 58% of all UK adults with the internet at home.
  • The proportion of older people saying that ‘someone else tends to’ block computer viruses or e-mail spam or unwanted e-mail messages is no different than that for all UK adults (around one in five of both groups).

Older people 'missing out' online

Seniors Network started out in life as a vehicle to help get Older People interested in the Internet. It has worked in a very small way. We would like to increase the interest of older people in all manners of communication. So what can we do?

Let me have your feedback - your comments - your suggestions

Here is some food for thought

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