Tech for Health: The Converging Digital Divide

Expanding on the commonly acknowledged age gap in technology adoption, a recent study explored whether similar differences exist among different ethnic groups of older adults.

To investigate this, researchers used data on older adults’ technology use from the Health and Retirement Study. Participants reported whether they had used various technologies for their health in the past month, such as email, phone, text, social media, health management websites and apps, or brain games. Technology usage by black and Hispanic older adults was compared with usage by white older adults, controlling for age, gender, and health conditions, as well as whether the individual had immigrated to the US.

Overall, technology usage declined with age, but black and Hispanic older adults reported significantly less health-related technology usage than white older adults. When also accounting for education, this effect remained significant, although the association was not as strong.

Interestingly, differences in technology usage varied by age. For adults ages 54 to 61, technology usage for health was similar across all ethnicities, although Hispanics reported slightly lower usage. By age 62, whites begin reporting significantly more usage than the other groups, and this difference grows with age among black older adults. And not a single participant in the group of black and Hispanic adults age 75 and over reported use of Internet-related technology usage, such as email, social media, and health websites.

Clearly, work is needed to improve access to and knowledge of health-related technologies among older minority groups in the US. Although education accounted for some of the difference among groups, it was not enough to explain this finding. This means there must be other factors at work, such as cultural or environmental barriers. Going forward, health promotion strategies that utilize technology will need to put more emphasis on reaching these ethnic groups.

This wasn’t all bad news. Considering that younger generations were not significantly different in tech usage, perhaps this trend will continue as these adults age. However, work will need to be done to ensure that ethnic differences do not reappear as newer technologies become available.

 

Source:

Mitchell UA, Chebli PG, Ruggiero L, and Muramatsu N. The digital divide in health-related technology use: The significance of race/ethnicity. The Gerontologist (2018); gny138.

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