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Can the Sharing Economy Really Change Senior Living? New Pew Research on Digital Platform Use

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A new study from the Pew Research Center reveals older Americans may not be taking full advantage of internet services that some say will help them age in place or maintain independence further into their lives.

Older adults aren’t using the internet – yet

Pew surveyed 4,787 American adults about their awareness and use of 11 shared and on-demand internet services such as Uber, AirBnb, Instacart, and Kickstarter. They found that the use of these platforms drops significantly at or around age 45. After age 50, 41% of Americans have used zero of the 11 platforms in the survey, and only 12% have used 4 or more. After age 65, those numbers move to 56% and 4% respectively.

Ride-hailing’s a viable transportation option – for those with lots of other options

Ride-hailing apps are currently used by only 15% of American adults. The median age of adult ride-hailing users in the United States is 33, and 18- to 29-year-olds are seven times as likely to use these services as are those age 65 and older. Frequent ride-hailing users were less likely to own cars, and those who didn’t own cars were more likely to frequent other shared transportation options.

Home-sharing, eBay, and on-demand groceries

The median age of those using home-sharing services rises a bit to 42 years old. But if older adults, especially those 65 or older, use on-demand or shared services, they’re most likely shopping on eBay or Craigslist. 42% of those age 50-64 and 23% of those 65+ reported buying secondhand items online. Only 6% of Americans overall have ordered groceries for delivery with apps like Instacart, Peapod, or FreshDirect.

Can the internet really help aging populations?

Education and income–more than age, race, or gender–were the strongest indicators of shared-economy platform usage, the report reveals. This means these segments of older adult users, like their younger counterparts, are disproportionately privileged in comparison with the overall aging population.

According to Pew, 73% of ride-sharing users in the survey agree that ride-sharing services, for example, could offer a good transportation option for older adults with limited mobility. Current statistics suggest, however, that companies may require targeted, organizational partnerships to educate or reach a majority of seniors with these options.

Perhaps one way to give seniors access to the benefits of a sharing economy is to teach them to operate more comfortably within its systems. Uber has actively targeted seniors, both with ride-share services co-ops and with options for employment. Lyft recently announced an initiative to give seniors without smartphones rides to their doctor’s appointments.

Download the entire Pew report which, according to author Aaron Smith, is “raising difficult issues around jobs, regulation, and the potential emergence of a new digital divide.”