Older adults warm up to social networking

Use of sites like Facebook and Twitter is growing steadily among people age 50 and older

A rising percentage of older adults are using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ too, according to a Pew study.

Forty-three percent of people age 65 and older use online social networking services, according to survey results released Monday by the Pew Research Center. A mere 1 percent of people in that age group were active on social networking sites in 2006.

Since 2009, adoption rates for those 65 and older have tripled, according to the report.

Several other age groups have also increased use of social networking over the past several years. Sixty percent of people ages 50-64 use social networking, up from 6 percent in 2005. Among people ages 30-49, the percentage increased sharply from 7 percent in 2005 to 78 percent in 2013, according to the study.

Report co-author Aaron Smith said there are likely several factors driving the rising adoption rates among seniors. Wanting to maintain links with family members who might not live nearby, such as by viewing photos or videos of grandchildren; rekindling connections to people they've lost touch with over the years, such as old flames or ex-classmates; and connecting with peers around shared hobbies and interests are all contributing factors, he said.

"Think online quilting circles, golf groups and so forth," Smith said in an email.

Younger adults are avid adopters of social media, the report said, but social networking continues to grow in popularity for older adults as well.

Overall, 72 percent of adults age 18 and older use social networking sites, the report said, up from 67 percent last year.

Pew researchers also looked at Twitter use by itself for the first time, and found that 18 percent of online adults age 18 and up now use Twitter -- roughly double the 8 percent of adults using the social networking site in 2010.

Older adults are becoming more active on Twitter too. Among people aged 50-64, 13 percent now use the site, up from 6 percent in 2010. Seventeen percent of people aged 30-49 use Twitter, up from 6 percent three years ago. Twitter usage among people 65 and older rose more anemically, from 4 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2013.

The report's results are based on data from telephone interviews conducted between April and May of this year, among a sample of more than 2,200 adults aged 18 and older. In addition to Twitter, respondents were asked about their use of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project has been studying social networking use among adults since 2005.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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