One of the biggest and most enduring changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the rapid shift to new technologies that facilitate communication, entertainment, learning and working remotely.
While older Americans generally have lower technology adoption rates than their younger counterparts — for example, 78% of households 65 and older have internet access compared to 89% of all households — they are now more digitally connected than ever before.
Technology has enabled older people to endure some of the most trying aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing them to stay in touch with others during isolation and giving them access to essential services such as the delivery of groceries and telehealth visits. A recent AARP report found that seniors’ tech spending nearly tripled during the pandemic, and smartphones were one of the top three tech purchases for this demographic. AARP also reported that many more seniors have been texting, video chatting and emailing during the pandemic than before.
While 78% of seniors have some form of internet access, just under 60% have high-speed internet subscriptions and 67% have a computer and a smartphone, according to the most recent statistics from the Census Bureau.
These numbers vary widely by location and socioeconomic status. For example, research indicates a strong rural-metro digital divide among older Americans. Similarly, extensive research indicates low rates of technology adoption among less educated, low-income senior households.
To find the places where seniors are the most digitally connected, researchers from HotDog.com analyzed data from the US Census Bureau and created a composite score based on the following factors:
Percentage of households aged 65 and over with high-speed Internet access
Percentage of households over 65 with a computer or laptop
Percentage of households over 65 with a smartphone
Regionally, seniors living on the coasts and in the mountains of the West tend to be more digitally connected than those living in the South and Midwest. Utah ranks first of all states, where 65% of senior households have high-speed Internet access, 80% have a computer or laptop, and 76% have a smartphone. Nationally, 59% of senior households have access to high-speed Internet and 67% each have a computer and a smartphone.
At the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia’s 65-plus population ranks last among all states when it comes to digital connectivity. Only 53% of senior households in West Virginia have high-speed Internet access, 56% have computers, and 53% have smartphones.
For smaller metros, the St. Joseph area lands at the bottom of the list at 120, with a composite score of 7.2. In households 65+, this includes: 45.4% having high-speed Internet, 47% of households 65+ having a laptop or computer, and 59.6% having a smartphone.
Tracey Bell, an 81-year-old St. Joseph resident, said she had high-speed internet access and bought a smartphone and iPad after her children begged her for them.
“I just didn’t get the point. What does an old fogy like me need the Internet for? she laughs. “I see the value. It was one of the only ways to see my family a few years ago. We spent Christmas on Zoom. He was a life saver.”
Similar trends hold at the local level, with many metropolitan areas in California, Colorado, Utah and Florida topping the list. In general, wealthier cities with strong economies show the highest rates of technology use among the population aged 65 and older.
News-Press NOW reporter Andrew Gaug contributed to this story.