It’s a welcome occasion when one of ASA’s lead policy agendas, Bridging the Digital Divide, so nicely parallels the U.N.’s theme for this International Day of Older Persons, celebrated Oct. 1, which is Digital Equity for All Ages.
As the population of older adults across the world is set to more than double across the next three decades, reaching 1.5 billion by 2050, it’s key that this cohort gains greater access to all things digital in order to take meaningful part in modern daily life, including connecting to and “seeing” family and friends (often via Zoom), taking classes, accessing healthcare, participating in many governmental programs, or ordering food, other goods or rides.
But, the greatest increase of older adults stands to occur in the least developed countries, when those who are ages 65 or older may rise from 37 million (in 2019) to 120 million by 2050—a 225 percent jump.
Meanwhile, fully half of the global population now remains offline. Demonstrating the current inequity, in developed countries that number is only 13 percent offline, whereas in developing countries it’s 81 percent. Women and older adults are offline more than any other group, as they either have no access or are not fully using the access they have.
In the U.S. alone 42 percent of Americans ages 65 and older (22 million people) have no broadband access to the internet. And age is second only to poverty in determining this lack of access. Again in the U.S., Black people are 2.6 times more likely to be offline, and Latinos are 3.4 times more likely to be offline than White people. Those with incomes lower than $25,000 are 10 times more likely to lack digital access. Single older adults are 2.7 times as likely to be offline, and those living in rural areas are 1.4 times as likely to live without home internet service. The inequity here is stark, but not as stark as it is internationally.
This year’s International Day of Older Persons aims to:
Bring awareness of this divide, while also tackling stereotypes around older adults’ digital use;
Highlight policies encouraging digital technologies as a way to tackle the U.N.’s sustainable development goals;
Foster availability, connectivity, design, affordability, capacity building, infrastructure and innovation via public and private collaboration;
Explore policies and legal frameworks to ensure safety and privacy of older adults;
Highlight the need for a legally binding agreement on older adult rights and a “intersectional person-centered human rights approach for a society for all ages.”
ASA is thankful to the U.N. for so clearly and publicly highlighting this critical inequity. Click here to learn more and gain resources from the U.N.
Toward a Bridged Digital Divide
In December 2020, ASA's Generations Forum theme was Tackling the Digital Divide. In this presentation during that event, Tom Kamber, founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), asks viewers to imagine the possibilities of a “bridged digital divide,” and commit to taking steps toward this vision.