The results of the second survey into how people over the age of 60 use information and communication technologies (ICT) are now available. This phase of the project involved surveying people in the physical-world and one-on-one interviews with them about some of the problems they experience when using the web. There were some differences between the results obtained in this physical-world survey and the results of the online survey about the same topic reported on earlier, particularly in the use of social networking tools. However, when it comes to the overall, general use of the web there appears to be many more similarities than differences.
The physical-world surveys and the interviews were conducted by Roger Hudson and Peter Hindmarsh in the first two months of 2011 and they have jointly collated the results and prepared this article. The results are available in a down-loadable excel file that can be accessed from the Mature Age ICT Users Physical-World Survey Results page.
This article is mainly concerned with how many people use the web in general (and social networking sites in particular) and for what reason. It also considers the use of mobile (cell) phones by the survey participants. The problems mature age users have with the web and the results of the interviews will be presented in future articles.
Our research into use of the web and mobile phones by people over the age of sixty has three main components:
- An online survey of ICT uses to gain an overview of the technologies they use, what they use them for, and common problems they might encounter.
- A real-world survey with participants from the same age group using the same questions as those in the online survey
- Qualitative interviews with the real-world survey participants using mock-ups of a web page to stimulate discussion about difficulties they have when using the web.
The online survey was conducted during December 2010 and January 2011. The survey was promoted through twitter, blog posts and via seniors and pensioners associations in Australia including various computer clubs for seniors in different states. As a result, all of the participants were self-selected and they came from the entire age range of the survey (60 to 85+). Of the participants who indicated their age, 70% were between the ages of 60 and 70 and 6% over the age 80.
94% of the survey respondents use the internet every day, with the most common use being to send/receive emails. 87% indicate they use web every day.
More information available in the Mature Age ICT Users Online Survey Results
Physical world surveys
When preparing this project we decided to include a physical-world survey component where we could control the recruitment of participants to ensure they were of the right age, something that clearly was not possible with the online survey. We were curious to see what differences there might be in the results obtained from the participants recruited online and those recruited in the physical-world.
In addition, the physical-world survey provided an opportunity to undertake a qualitative survey with the participants to discuss the difficulties they experience when using the web and their general ability to control the way web content is presented.
The physical-world survey participants came from two general groups:
- Community – (16 participants). About half of these contacts were made through neighbours and acquaintances. The remainder were approached randomly at the University of Sydney, this included members of the university staff, people visiting the university grounds and people attending summer courses.
- Retirement village (total of 22 participants, 15 use internet and mobile phone, 7 use only the phone). These participants are residents living in independent apartments in three retirement villages run by Uniting Care Aging in Sydney. We are very grateful for the assistance of the Volunteer Coordinator for making this possible.
Unfortunately, there was an inconsistency in the recruitment of participants. When the community participants were approached they were asked if they were over the age of 60 and use the internet. However, with the retirement village we asked if they used the internet and/or mobile phone. As a result, the retirement village participants include some people who don’t use the internet (these results are clearly identified in the attached excel file).
Summary of results
There are significant differences in the age profile of those people who did the survey in the community and those participants from the retirement villages: 88% of the community participants are between 60 and 70, whereas only 14% of the people from the retirement village are in this age group. 60% of retirement participants are over the age of 80.
Overall, 74% of the physical-world internet users use the internet everyday (53% in the retirement villages) and the most common use is email. 82% of the community participants use the web everyday compared with 33% of web-users in the retirement villages.
However, in spite of these differences, the overall survey results from the two groups were generally similar, and so for the purpose of this summary they have been combined to give a total respondent pool of 31 people, with 48% aged between 60 and 70, and 35% over 80. This is quite different to the age profile of the online participants outlined earlier.
Comparison of results
The following tables provide the percentage of responses to particular questions for the online survey and the results obtained by combining the responses from the two physical-world surveys.
What do you mainly use the web for?
For this question, the participants were provided with a number of common reasons for using the web and asked to indicate how often each reason applied to them using a scale of three responses: ‘Often’, ‘Sometimes’, and ‘Never’.
This table contains the results for some of the questions relating to web use and indicate the percentage of participants in each category who used the web for an activity either ‘Often’ or ‘Sometimes’
Web Use (percentage of participants)
Physical world (n=31)
|Keep up with the news||
|Keep in touch with family and friends||
|Personal genealogical research||
|Find health related information||
When it comes to online transactions, the purchase of travel and accommodation services seems to be the standout with those participants who indicated they have shopped online: It appears that 97% (this seems suspiciously high) of the online participants and 60% of physical-world participants have booked travel and/or accommodation online. The number of online grocery shoppers was smaller that we expected with just 15% of online participants and 10% of physical-world participants indicating they had purchased groceries over the internet at least sometimes.
The survey participants were asked to indicate their main concern about doing transactions online. Three options were provided and in both the online and physical world surveys the greatest concern was clearly related to the security of financial details with about 54% of participants in both groups selecting this option.
Not surprisingly, one big difference in the responses to the online and physical-world surveys relates to use of social media. 35% of all online participants indicated they use social media site(s) every day, compared with 13% of the participants in the physical-world surveys.
Overall, Facebook and YouTube appear to be the only social media tools that hold any real attraction for those over the age of sixty. There is an interesting difference in the use of Twitter with 28% of online participants indicating they use Twitter often or sometimes, compared to none of the physical-world participants.
The survey participants were asked to indicate how often they used social media for different purposes, once again using a scale of three responses: ‘Often’, ‘Sometimes’, and ‘Never’. This table indicates the percentage of participants in each category who said they used social media for an activity either ‘Often’ or ‘Sometimes’
Use of Social Media (percentage of those who use social media)
|Online (n=85)||Physical world (n=12)|
|Keep in touch with family||79||50|
|Keep in touch with friends||84||83|
|Post photos or videos||73||25|
|View videos made by others||86||58|
Mobile phone usage
The online and physical-world survey contained three questions relating to the use of mobile (cell) phone. Most of the survey participants indicated they owned and used a mobile phone. The participants were asked to indicate what they felt were the main reasons for having a mobile phone using a scale of three responses: ‘Very important’, ‘Slightly important’ and ‘Not important’. The following table shows the percentage of people who considered each reason ‘Very important’
Reasons for having a mobile phone (percentage of ‘very important’ responses)
|Online (n=110)||Physical world (n=30)|
|Make phone calls||69||57|
|Send text messages||35||43|
|To contact in emergency||85||83|
|Read and send email||12||13|
|Keep up to date with the news||7||3|
|Look for sports results on the web||0||0|
|Look for other info on the web||10||7|
In the next article we plan to look at the difficulties survey participants indicated they had when using the web and social networking sites. Also, we will report on the results of the interviews with the real-world participants and offer some suggestions as to how we might improve the accessibility of the web for mature age users.
A few preliminary observations to whet your appetite:
- The impediments older people face when participating in the online world probably have less to do with age and more to do with the exposure they had to commuters in general, and specifically the web, earlier in life either through work or play.
- Many older people experience difficulties using websites but they tend to dismiss this as being an inevitable consequence and getting old and don’t perceive it to be a problem with the site.
- Most web users do not appear to know how use the browser or operating system to increase the size of text on websites.
- Very few of the participants interviewed had any idea what the word “accessibility” might mean and only two of the participants recalled ever seeing tools on a site for increasing the size of text.
- A significant proportion of older web users who find that the size of the text on a page makes it difficult to read are likely to leave the site and look elsewhere for the information.
- At this stage, it would be unwise for government and business to rely on the web (and social media in particular) as a medium of communicating to this section of the community.
- Many older people do not use the mobile phone to access email or the web.
We are planning to do some follow up surveys in the near future which will look at specific issues such as:
- Whether older web users have their own computer or share one with other members of the household
- Where do older web users get their information about using the technology and support or assistance when they have problems
- What (if any) particular problems do web users is rural and regional areas experience
I will be discussing the results of this research and the implications for government and business in a paper, “Improving Web Accessibility for the Elderly“, which I am presenting at CSUN 2011 on March 16. The paper will also outline some of the issues older web users have with font size and colour, and canvass various options for how they might be addressed.