Study: Dramatic Rise in 50+ Social Media Use
In the past year, I've gotten Facebook friend requests from my 74-year-old father, 60-year-old aunt, a friend's 75-year-old mother and dozens of high school and college friends and assorted ex-work colleagues, all of whom are in their early to mid-50s.
Use of social networks by people 50 and older grew 88 percent in the past year, and the number of users over 65 doubled, according to a just-released study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
In all, half (47 percent) of internet users 50 to 64 and more than one in four (26 percent) users 65 and older now use Facebook and other social networking sites. That's up from 25 percent and 13 percent respectively in April 2009, the last time Pew conducted a similar survey, according to this PaidContent.org report.
Pew researchers found a range of factors pushing people 50 and older into social networks, including a desire to reconnect with people from their past as they look for jobs or get ready to retire. They also found that people over 50 were using the network for research and support for age-related health issues.
People old and young are flocking to social networks because no other space online or off can bridge generational gaps as effectively, the researchers said.
"Photos, videos and updates shared on a daily basis can provide a valuable connection to faraway family and friends who are tied together in a variety of ways," the Pew report said. "The children and grandchildren of older adults are documenting many aspects of their lives through social media, and these are also becoming popular spaces for professional networking, continuing education and political participation."
In addition to social networks, boomers also are embracing other online offerings. According to the Pew study:
- 92 percent of people 50 to 64 and 89 percent of people 65+ now use e-mail regularly, with more than half of each group sending or reading e-mail messages every day.
- More boomers and older Americans are getting their news online--75 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 42 percent of over-65-year-olds. That's a trend that could spell trouble for newspapers that have assumed older readers would cling to print long enough for them to figure out how to make online news pay.
- The number of people over 50 using Twitter to share updates about themselves or see updates from others is growing exponentially. As of May 2010, 11 percent of internet users 50 to 64 and 6 percent of users 65 and older were on the microblogging service, compared with 5 percent and 1 percent respectively in April 2009.
People over 65 may have been slower than other groups to embrace social networks because they are less likely to have broadband internet connections at home--31 percent vs. 66 percent of all adults and 80 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, according to the study.
The findings aren't entirely surprising since younger boomers--what some have dubbed Generation Jones--jumped into the social networking frey much more quickly, at nearly twice the rate of the older end of the demographic.
It's also not surprising that the reaction to this latest study from some camps is that "old" people are killing Facebook. New York Magazine used the headline "Baby Boomers Join Facebook to Destroy American Youth" on its version of the story.
But here's a news flash: A couple of teenagers may have invented Facebook, and college students and twentysomethings have been its digital pioneers. But Gen Y didn't invent going online to hang out.
People have been doing that since before the internet as we know it existed, back when CompuServe and local electronic bulletin boards, which early PC and Mac owners logged onto through 1200-baud modems and dial-up telephone connections, were considered cutting-edge.
Just because boomers and older consumers didn't jump on the Facebook bandwagon as quickly as other early adopters doesn't mean they've been completely unplugged.
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