Are older people really spending more time online?

New data from the Office of National Statistics reveals that Over-70s are UK’s most online adults after twenty-somethings. Our Head of Research and Data Insights, Katie Heard, explores these findings.

During the Christmas period, like many of you, I spent time with family and friends aged over 70. I observed the significant amount of time they spent on their devices – the audible pings, continuous scrolling, and hours immersed in games. This digital engagement mostly occurred on their phones, with laptops fired up for more important tasks.

New data from the Office of National Statistics reveals that people over 70 are second only to those in their 20s in device usage. Whilst my post-holiday self can believe this, my work-self in 2024 questions what this data may not be telling us.

The benefits of older people being online

I’ve witnessed first-hand the benefits of the over 70s embracing technology – connecting with loved ones via video calls or social media, managing appointments, and maintaining their health. For those facing reduced mobility or insecurity, the convenience of ordering goods and services online from the comfort of their homes is invaluable. Additionally, the cost savings achieved by searching for products and services online are undeniable. However, I acknowledge that my experience may be an exception rather than the norm for this age group.

A different perspective

Contrary to the ONS data, our 2022 report on the economic impact of digital inclusion, in collaboration with CEBR, revealed that 4.2 million people over 75 lack basic digital skills, constituting four out of five in this age group. Digital exclusion is not always a choice and can be influenced by factors such as:

  • Access: Limited financial means or opportunities to access mobile data, broadband, or devices capable of internet access.
  • Skills: Basic tasks like using a device, connecting to a network, sending an email, or filling out an online form may not be intuitive and require learning and practice.
  • Confidence: Lack of experience or poor educational experiences may hinder the confidence to develop digital skills independently.
  • Motivation: If traditional methods suffice, individuals may not see the need to transition online.

Our data further indicates that around half of those lacking basic skills may recognise the opportunities in the digital world and work towards getting online, either independently, with support from those around them, or through the National Digital Inclusion Network. However, many require persuasion, support, and a gradual approach to the journey.

Through the assistance of local community organisations that understand their circumstances and identify compelling reasons to be online, individuals may gradually integrate digital devices into their lives – becoming the group identified by the ONS, where their devices become permanent and indispensable.

Katie Heard

Head of Research and Data Insights

Katie leads our team of researchers and data specialists. The research team helps us understand the difference we are making, how many people we are helping and understand what works and how we can improve the lives of those who are digitally excluded. Katie sees equality of access to digital services and devices as a basic need and is passionate about making this possible for as many people as we can.

More good things

Help people in your community? Join the National Digital Inclusion Network and get access to free digital inclusion services.

Read transformational stories The National Digital Inclusion Network has supported people to improve their lives through digital.

Our digital inclusion services Thousands of people have been supported by the National Databank, the National Device Bank and Learn My Way.