Currently, the vast majority of Americans age 65 and older do not go online. But that will likely change in a big way as the "silver tsunami" of internet-loving Baby Boomers swamps the off-line senior population in the next 10 years. That demographic shift, paired with a rising tide of viruses, spyware, and other online critters, is cause for concern since there is evidence that older users are less likely than younger ones to take precautions against software intrusions and fraud.
The truth about "wired seniors"
"Wired seniors" (internet users age 65 or older) are often cited as the fastest-growing demographic group online, but that description can be misleading. Most of the growth in this group over the last few years has come from long-time internet users in their early sixties aging into senior status. There is little evidence that many non-users in their seventies and eighties are suddenly getting the internet bug.
In January 2006, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 34% of Americans age 65 and older go online, up from 29% in January 2005. But a closer look at the data reveals that just 28% of Americans age 70 and older go online - essentially the same percentage as in January 2005 (26%). By contrast, internet access is near-universal for Americans under the age of 60: 89% of 18-28 year-olds, 86% of 29-40 year-olds, 78% of 41-50 year-olds, and 72% of 51-59 year-olds go online. About half (54%) of 60-69 year-olds go online.
The common perception of the timid older internet user is quite accurate, even for relative newcomers to the ranks of seniors. Wired seniors are less likely than internet users under the age of 65 to have tried a wide range of online activities, possibly because they are not in the market for as many types of information as younger users who might be doing schoolwork, trolling for dates, or scanning employment listings online. In addition, researchers at Fidelity Investments have identified "cautious clicking" as a behavior trait of many older internet users who may share a sense that one false move on the Web could land them in unknown or unsafe territory.
Read the full memo Are 'Wired Seniors' Sitting Ducks? on the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site.