Closing the Digital Divide: Urgent Actions Needed for Aging Populations to Ensure Access
As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, there is a growing concern about the digital divide and data divide that affects aging populations. Research conducted by FP Analytics in collaboration with AARP reveals that while 60 percent of the global population is connected to the Internet, access to digital services remains unevenly distributed, particularly among older adults and individuals in low- and middle-income countries.
Even within advanced economies like the United States, there are significant disparities in digital access. Shockingly, 15 percent of adults aged 50 or older in the US do not have Internet access, with high-speed Internet costs being a major barrier. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of digital access prevented around 40 percent of older US adults from accessing much-needed online services at home. The digital divide is even more pronounced for women, who are 21 percent less likely to be online in developed nations and 52 percent less likely in developing countries compared to men. Additionally, many digital services are not designed with the specific needs of aging populations in mind, making them inaccessible to individuals with limited physical or cognitive abilities.
Addressing these divides is crucial, especially as the global population continues to age. By 2030, there will be 1.4 billion people aged 60 or older worldwide. In the United States, the aging population is projected to surpass the youth population by 2034, with an estimated 77 million individuals aged 65 and older. As the working-age population shrinks, it is imperative to ensure that new and emerging technologies are accessible to all and do not deepen the digital divide.
To tackle these challenges, the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center is working to identify the necessary actions to ensure that emerging technologies are used for the public’s benefit while also mitigating potential risks to underserved communities and the aging population globally. By convening subject matter experts, thought leaders, and decision-makers from different sectors, the GeoTech Center aims to explore the broader implications of new technologies, solve global challenges, and develop actionable tech policies and programs.
One of the key recommendations to bridge the digital and data divides is training a more inclusive workforce. Companies need to create inclusive working conditions and lifelong learning opportunities to maintain digital literacy, attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. However, simply offering digital literacy lessons is not sufficient. It is crucial for older adults to be engaged in the training sessions and enjoy them. Institutions that seniors trust, such as libraries or religious networks, should deliver digital training, and instructors who have shared experiences or are seniors themselves may be more effective in educating older adults. One-on-one instruction can also provide personalized training that better suits their needs.
Moreover, it is essential to involve older individuals, caregivers, and other stakeholders directly in the development process of technologies. By adopting a more inclusive, user-centered design approach, technology companies can ensure that their products meet the needs of a diverse set of users, including seniors. This inclusive design process should consider factors such as trust, privacy, and physical abilities like vision, hearing, and dexterity. By involving seniors in the design process, technology companies can tap into a significant consumer base with considerable spending power.
To ensure future technologies benefit aging populations and do not exacerbate existing divides, it is essential for all sectors, including the public and private sectors, to work together proactively. This collaboration should prioritize optimization in data processing, evaluation of policies and programs, and the establishment of equitable access, tracking, and control over data across society. By addressing these challenges, we can bridge the digital and data divides, creating a more inclusive and accessible future for all.