A new study by Focalyst, a New York-based joint venture of AARP Services and research consultant Kantar, estimates that of the 125 million baby boomers and seniors in the U.S., 85 million regularly use the internet. This breaks down to 63 million boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, and 22 million seniors, those born before 1946. The study's results were based on answers from 30,000 consumers aged 42 and older.
David van Nostrand, chief research officer and senior VP, Focalyst, said the statistics debunk the stereotype of older people being adverse to technology. Older adults are comfortable with computers because they used them in the 1980s at their jobs and then had the purchasing power when they became available for home use, he said.
"Here are these people in the labor force that are learning [to use computers] at work, and they become the early adopters when they go into the household. So it's not surprising they would adopt the internet as well, because they already know about computers," he said.
The older generations are shopping online in droves, with 44 million saying they have bought items online, and 7 million saying the shop online at least once a week. They are also using the web to research purchases (later made either online or offline). Specifically, 25 million baby boomers and 7 million seniors say they use the web to do pre-purchase research.
Same rate as Gen X
Thirty percent of the 63 million boomers online shops online at least a few times a month -- the same percentage as those in the generation born between 1965 and 1988 (aka Gen X). Baby boomers are more likely then their younger counterparts to buy computers and computer accessories online, but both groups equally turn to the web for airline tickets and hotel reservations.
Charles Pinkerton, partner at Media Kitchen, said the older population wasn't online a few years ago, but is increasingly using the web in part because of pester power. "It's because it's been so embraced by other parts of the society. To still be part of the society, you have to use it," he said. Simultaneously, this group has the disposable income, and therefore they shop online, he said.
E-mail is this group's primary online activity, but much like other web users, they are also checking news and health sites and banking online, according to the study.
Want first-hand evidence of seniors embracing the web? Go to YouTube. There you'll see a featured video of a gentleman who calls himself geriatric1927 who introduces himself to YouTube and asks politely to be included in the YouTube community.
Based on the comments that follow, the YouTube community thinks he's pretty sweet.