The National Broadband Network will potentially provide the opportunity for all Australians to access the same level of information and online services regardless of their location, age and level of mobility. But this opportunity can only be grasped by those who have the technical skills needed to use computers and the internet. This research shows that older Australians use computers and the internet less than younger Australians. This is likely to be a cohort effect that will diminish over time as younger generations age. But in the short term, information and services aimed at older Australians will need to be provided in additional ways.
About the research
The increasing availability of high-speed broadband telecommunications provides all people with the opportunity to access the same level of information and online services, regardless of their location, age and level of mobility. But this opportunity is only available to those individuals who have the technical skills that enable them to access computers and the internet.
This research uses data from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) Survey to investigate computer and internet use by older Australians by comparison with younger people.
- Not surprisingly, technology and internet use is negatively associated with age. People over the age of 65 years are much less likely to use the internet than younger people.
- Men show higher levels of computer use than women, and this gender gap increases with age.
- The levels of computer use increase as educational attainment increases. Moreover, the gap in usage due to educational attainment increases with age.
- Older Australians who undertook some form of formal study in the preceding 12 months reported higher levels of computer use. Also, the difference in computer use between those who study and those who don't increases with age.
While computer and internet usage is shown to be lower in older age groups, this is likely to be partly a cohort effect. As the birth cohorts currently exposed to computers get older, the proportion of people of a specific age who have never used a computer will decline.
It should also be noted that this report is based on survey data collected in 2006-07. Much has changed that could affect computer and internet use since then, especially with the growth of the social media. Whether or not this has altered the use of internet by older Australians is uncertain.
Managing Director, NCVER
This study aims to examine the characteristics of older Australians who report high levels of internet use. Understanding the characteristics of internet-using older people will enable the development of policies and programs designed to increase internet use amongst older Australians in general. Our data allow us to consider a number of socioeconomic and demographic characteristics that may explain variations in internet use amongst older Australians. These characteristics include gender, age, highest level of education and the occupation of employed persons. We further investigate the relationship between English skills and computer use and recent formal education, including vocational education and training (VET). Our analysis focuses on older Australians, those aged 50 years and above, but also contains comparisons with younger people (aged 15-49 years).
Empirical evidence on the characteristics that determine computer use of older people is rather scarce, although it seems likely that levels of computer use do not only vary considerably across age groups but also across different levels of education, occupations and gender. Examining the differences between men and women, particularly those aged 50 years or more, who report high levels of computer use compared with men and women who report low levels of use or who do not use computers is an important step in developing policy to encourage older Australians to become more active users. As Australia embarks on the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), the implications of low levels of computer use among older Australians is of particular interest. The NBN will provide the opportunity for all Australians to access the same level of services and information, regardless of their location, age and level of mobility. However, unless all Australians acquire the technical skills required to use computers and the internet, some sections of the Australian community may become more isolated and disadvantaged.
Our study analyses data from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) Survey conducted in 2006 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The data contains information on computer use, gender, age, education, occupation, English skills and engagement in formal and informal education. We further observe information on the frequency with which respondents undertake a range of computer-related tasks. These variables, which exceed the information available for analysis in most studies, are used to construct a continuous measure of computer use. In addition, we make use of information on individual self-assessed English skills, which allows us to determine the relationship between computer use and English skills, controlling for other relevant factors such as age and education.
We provide a comprehensive descriptive analysis of the determinants of computer use of older Australians by considering a number of relevant dimensions. We begin with an analysis of the variations in the types of computer use used to construct the continuous computer use scale. We then consider variations in the computer use scale across gender, age, educational attainment and occupation. We further compare the computer use patterns of older Australians with those of younger Australians and provide a discussion of the relationship between self-assessed English skills and the computer use of older Australians. Finally, we investigate the relationship between education and training and computer use.
The major findings and their implications are highlighted in the points below.
Variation in types of computer use across the population
- Computer and internet use is indeed negatively associated with age. Over one-third of men and women aged 15-24 years used the internet for browsing on a daily basis compared with 8% of men and just 3% of women aged 65 years or more.
- Sixty-five per cent of men and 73% of women aged 65 years or more have never used the internet to read or send emails.
- Men in each age group use the internet more frequently than women.
- Although women are more likely to use the internet for reading the news than men, their frequency of use is lower than that of men.
- Eighteen per cent of men and 9% of women aged 65 years or more use the internet for shopping.
- Of those who use the internet to access government information, the majority do so only a few times per month.
Older people's computer use
- Men exhibit higher levels of computer use than women. The gender gap in computer use increases with age.
- The levels of computer use increase as educational attainment increases. Education and occupation explain some of the difference between the computer use of men and that of women.
Being a manager, professional, para-professional or clerk has a statistically positive effect on computer use compared with other occupations.
Employed men and women in each age cohort report higher levels of computer use than their nonemployed counterparts.
Skills and computer use
- Employed women report the highest level of English skills, while non-employed men report the lowest levels of English skills.
English skills are associated with the computer use levels of older Australians, even after controlling for other relevant characteristics, such as age, gender, education and occupation.
Education, training and computer use
- Older Australians who undertook some form of formal study in the preceding 12 months report the highest average levels of computer use.
The difference in computer use between those who studied and those who did not study increases with age.
While computer and internet usage is shown to be lower in older age groups, this is likely to be partly a cohort effect. As the birth cohorts currently exposed to computers get older, the proportion of people of a specific age who have never used a computer will decline. However, while low use among older Australians will decline as cohorts age, it seems unlikely that usage will change much in the current cohort of older Australians.