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Older Adults Embracing Technology At Significantly Higher Rates

Checking in on how much those 60 and older are adopting digital tools for finances, work, communication & more as COVID-19 pandemic crisis enters its second year

Published: February 23, 2021 | The Senior List Research Team

In our annual look at older adults’ use of digital tools and technology, we find that COVID-19 continues to spur record adoption of online grocery shopping and other online activities to stay close to loved ones or conduct activities previously done in person or at an office.  And who knows… your latest TikTok follower may be a septuagenarian!

In April 2020, we asked a group of those 60 and older about how they’d been adopting various forms of technology and digital tools in the early stages of the pandemic. Now that almost a year has passed, it’s time to revisit that survey and find out how those 60 and older have settled into digital routines and how smooth the transition has been.

Read on for our full survey, and check out some of the key findings below:

  • Older adults’ use of grocery delivery or on-demand meal delivery like DoorDash has nearly doubled since the pandemic began, rising from 12 percent to 23 percent.
  • The 60+ crowd is into TikTok, with more than double the seniors watching a video in the past two weeks compared to pre-pandemic (three percent to eight percent).
  • About 15 percent of older men use the internet to trade stocks, compared to just two percent of their female counterparts.
  • COVID-19 was the biggest reason (61 percent) seniors cited for increasing their use of digital or online tools.
  • Only 15 percent of respondents said adapting to new technologies was “extremely” or “very” challenging.

Most Online Activities Rise

When thinking about their lives pre-pandemic, older Americans were more likely to engage in almost all of the 13 online activities we asked about, which include those related to work, shopping, communication, and more.

The biggest shift was when it came to ordering meals or grocery delivery online. Only about 12 percent of respondents said they ordered food this way before the pandemic, but today that number stands at 23 percent in just the past two weeks, or almost double pre-pandemic levels. And this number is nearly identical to the rate at which older adults reported ordering meals or grocery delivery when we first asked about it in 2020. Similarly, older adults are twice as likely today as before COVID-19 to watch TikTok videos, though this also coincides with a broader surge in the use of the app by all age groups.

Older Americans’ online technology/digital tool usage, past two weeks vs. pre-pandemic
Activity Past two weeks Pre-pandemic YoY Growth
Downloaded a new app 29% 25% +16%
Joined a Facebook Group 11% 8% +38%
Ordered food or grocery delivery online 23% 12% +92%
Paid bills/made financial transactions online 69% 66% +5%
Played a game online or via an app 42% 38% +11%
Posted an Instagram Story 2% 2%
Shopped online 70% 65% +8%
Signed up for a new service online 6% 4% +50%
Traded stocks online 8% 7% +14%
Used a new video conferencing app 4% 2% +100%
Watched a video on TikTok 8% 3% +167%
Worked from home on a company computer 7% 4% +75%
Worked from home on a personal computer 18% 12% +5%

Older women are more likely than older men to report having used various digital or online tools recently, with a few notable exceptions. Men are several times more likely to use the internet to trade stocks (15 percent vs. two percent), and they’re much more likely to use either a company or personal computer to work from home.

Older Americans’ online technology/digital tool usage, past two weeks, by gender
Activity Women Men
Downloaded a new app 30% 28%
Joined a Facebook Group 12% 8%
Ordered food or grocery delivery online 26% 20%
Paid bills/made financial transactions online 69% 70%
Played a game online or via an app 47% 35%
Posted an Instagram Story 2% 3%
Shopped online 72% 69%
Signed up for a new service online 5% 7%
Traded stocks online 2% 15%
Used a new video conferencing app 4% 5%
Watched a video on TikTok 8% 8%
Worked from home on a company computer 5% 9%
Worked from home on a personal computer 14% 23%

Most of the popular online activities for older adults remained at levels similar to our findings in 2020, though when we first asked older Americans about their online habits, 77 percent said they’d used these tools to do their banking, and today that’s just 69 percent. However, respondents to our latest survey indicated they were more likely to bank online today compared to before the pandemic, and it’s possible that many seniors have grown so accustomed to banking online that they no longer think of it as something new.

The majority of respondents indicated that compared to 2020, they are doing more online communication and online financial transacting. However, women were more likely in both cases to say their frequency of these activities has climbed.

Percentage indicating frequency of online activity has risen, by gender
Activity Women Men All
Financial transactions 57% 46% 52%
Communication 57% 51% 54%

Note: Respondents saying they’re doing “a little more” or “a lot more” of online financial activity and online communication

Those living in suburban and urban settings were the most likely to say they’ve rapidly accelerated their use of online transactions and communication. About one in four suburbanites say they’re doing “a lot more” online transactions compared with 14 percent of those in rural areas. About 28 percent of people in urban settings said they’re doing “a lot more” online communication compared to just 12 percent of people who live in semi-rural communities.

Pandemic Impact & Future Possibilities

Without a doubt, the pandemic and related restrictions have been the deciding factor in leading older adults to embrace the use of technology and online tools. When asked to list all factors related to their increased use of these technologies, 61 percent listed the pandemic.

Factors motivating increased online/digital activity
COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing 61%
Emergence of new online services (such as doctors offering telehealth) 16%
Greater awareness of online offerings 14%
Friends/family recommendations 12%
Changes in work environment 11%
Purchase of new devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc) 6%
Increase in ADA accessibility online 0%

The capacity for older adults to continue embracing technological tools may be high; nearly 60 percent of respondents said adjusting to increased use of technology hasn’t been challenging. Only 15 percent said these tools were “very challenging” or “extremely challenging,” though women were slightly more likely to report having trouble than men.

Older adults’ rating of difficulty in adapting to digital or online activities, by gender
Rating Female Male All
Extremely challenging 4% 3% 4%
Very challenging 11% 12% 11%
Somewhat challenging 29% 25% 27%
Not so challenging 39% 41% 40%
Not at all challenging 17% 20% 18%

Conclusion

From wearing masks to rationing toilet paper, Americans have had to adjust to new ways of doing many things. For those at or near retirement age, the pandemic doesn’t appear to have dulled their ability to cope with change — perhaps the opposite is true.

Methodology

We surveyed 615 Americans 60 and older about which online- or technology-related activities they’d done in the past two weeks, how that compares with before the pandemic, and other questions related to the increased use of technology. The survey was conducted in February 2021.