Are politicians ageist about web usage?

A frequent reason given to me for not spending time using the internet to engage with voters is that older voters, who are more likely to vote, are not on-line. Very often a picture of older people confused and fearful of the computer is painted for me by members of all parties and often older members. I disagree and there is a growing army of older internet users who should not be ignored.

Are older people on-line?

Whilst I have to admit that Internet usage is higher among younger people, usage by older people is increasing and in the coming years can only increase further – not least as younger people for whom the internet is more firmly part of their lives – grow older and move into an older bracket, but also as more and more older people want to or are encouraged to come on-line.

In the UK statistics from the National Statistics Omnibus Survey helps little in dismissing the perception that many have hat older people find the internet and computers in general too difficult to grasp. This is because the sample size for people over 65 was very small.

Percentage of adults in Great Britain who have ever accessed the Internet    
               
Gender 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Jul Jan Feb Feb Feb Feb Feb
Men 52 57 58 66 61 68 71
Women 39 45 54 58 63 62 64
Total 45 51 56 62 62 65 67
Age Group              
16 to 24 years 69 85 82 95 88 94 91
25 to 44 years 60 66 74 81 80 85 83
45 to 64 years 49 50 58 64 72 69 75
55 to 64 years 33 39 41 45 46 49 58
65 years and over1 9 12 12 15 20 22 21
               
1 Data for the 65+ age group is based on a very small sample size and care should be taken when using this data.

What the UK statistics do show there is that internet usage has increased dramatically for all age ranges, but most dramatically among the older groups as usage among younger people reaches saturation.

In the US an eMarketer report boasts that the ranks of Internet-Using Seniors growing. Here more than 1 in 10 respondants (12%) over 99 used the internet and 7% used email and 19% owned a mobile phone. Over 25 million internet users are over 62, which hardly matches the perception I mentioned earlier.

Older people are on-line, older people are increasingly engaging in on-line communities and using the Internet to do their research. Going forward the growth in older people using the internet can only continue and any political party that ignores this does so at their peril.

Politicians who think that older people are not on-line need to re-think, and together with communicating with those who are already on line through this medium need to campaign for and support measures to help both older people and those who are more deprived to get on-line. These groups often find it harder to get on-line for a variety of reasons but are also have the most to gain by accessing information and services here.

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