Researchers used data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study to investigate patterns of technology use by older adults and how they’re related to principles of successful aging. Responses of over 6,000 community-dwelling older adults were examined to investigate the relationship between their level of social engagement and use of communication technology (sending e-mails or texts) or information technology (using the Internet to complete personal tasks or deal with health matters).
The researchers found that women were more likely than men to visit family or friends, attend clubs or organized activities, and attend religious services, while there were no gender differences in going out for enjoyment or doing volunteer work. Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported having access to information and communication technology, but women were significantly less likely to report having access. Women were also less likely to report using technology for personal tasks, health matters, or e-mailing or texting.
Additional gender differences emerged in regard to the relationship between technology use and social engagement. Having access to information and communication technology was related to an increased likelihood that women would visit family or friends, go out for enjoyment, attend clubs or classes, volunteer, and attend religious services. For men, technology access was only related to a greater likelihood of going out for enjoyment. Use of e-mails or texts was positively related to going out for enjoyment, attending clubs or classes, and volunteering for both genders. Using the Internet for health matters was related to a greater likelihood of visiting family or friends for men, and attending clubs or classes for women.
Based on the data available, the authors could not establish a causal relationship, but this study provided strong evidence for the relationship between technology and social activity. Women may rely on getting out to socialize compared to men, who mainly socialize with their spouse, so having access to technology appears to be important for helping older women be socially engaged. This is particularly true for those with mobility issues. The finding that women report having less access than men should be considered when promoting technology use among older adults. E-mail and texting seemed to be useful for both genders to be socially engaged, so interventions for reducing social isolation may benefit from a focus on this type of technology.
Kim, J, Lee, HY, Christensen, MC, and Merighi, JR. Technology access and use, and their associations with social engagement among older adults: Do women and men differ? Journals of Gerontology, Social Sciences (2017); 72(5): 836-845.