Posted in on November 10, 2015

Baby Boomers, Seniors and Digital Device Ownership

The Pew Research Center has released a new study, “Technology Device Ownership: 2015,” which contains some actionable data for those marketing to baby boomers and seniors. In short, more adults — including those over the age of 50  — own smartphones and tablets than ever before. And while nearly three times as many 18-29 year old Millennials as 65+ers own a smartphone, ownership of tablets doesn’t show the same age gap.

Here are some key statistics and some action items for your boomers / seniors marketing program.

Technology Device Ownership by Age

Among all adults, smartphones are the most common digital device followed by computers (desktop or laptop).

Chart - Most commonly owned tech devices - Pew Research Center

Source: Pew Research Center

We are always curious about purchase patterns by older adults, of course, and Pew’s study addresses both younger boomers aged 50-64 and baby boomers / seniors who are over 65.

First, there is an age gap when it comes to smartphones. 86% of 18-29 year olds reported owning one. 30-49 year olds trail slightly, with 83% reporting ownership of a smartphone. Then adoption falls to 58% of 50-64 year olds and just 30% of 65+.

Tablets are a different story, however. The difference between the number of 18-29 year old tablet owners (50%)  and 65+ tablet owners (32%) is not so great. The single most commonly owned tech device for an older adult remains not a mobile device but a computer.

Chart - Technology device ownership by age

Insights into Action: With rising use of mobile devices we’re seeing a rising use of email on mobile devices. Email, the top activity of older adults online, also is the “killer app” for tablets and smartphones. Be sure your site and emails are mobile-friendly — and senior friendly!

On your website, simplify navigation; put phone numbers at the top of every page. In both web and email, consider their comfort when sizing photos and calls to action. As we wrote in our Social, Silver Surfers ebook,

“KISS: Keep it Simple for Seniors (and everyone). Make it easy for visitors to find what they want and feel good about being on your website. If they are having an enjoyable experience, those positive feelings will transfer to your organization … So will the negative or, perhaps worse, ambivalent ones.

When developing main navigation, avoid using clever names for the sole reason of differentiating yourself from competitors. They most likely will confuse your visitors.

There are more positive ways to stand out. Be remembered for the content and great experiences you offer, not the frustrations.”

Minding the Gap(s)

Creating Results has frequently reported on technology adoption by boomers and seniors; we’re pleased to see smartphone ownership by the eldest age group rise from 18% in 2014 to 30% now. That age gap is decreasing.

Pew’s study does show that the more urban, affluent or educated you are, the more likely you are to own any of these devices. So gaps remain and mature marketers need to be aware!

We noted one final, interesting distinction which I’ll call the “fun gap.” It’s clear in the ownership statistics for three types of devices: MP3 players, game consoles and portable game players.


Chart - MP3, Gaming Console, Portable Game Player ownership by age

Insights into Action: Creating Results frequently reminds prospects and audiences that while younger people have spent their lives being entertained and amused by digital, older adults still view technology as a tool. That doesn’t mean they themselves aren’t fun; it means they’re less likely to “indulge” in devices or online features that don’t help them reach their goal. Keep this in mind when debating whether a flashy new feature deserves a place on your website.


Click here to download the Pew Research Center report, “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.”

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