SECG blog

How wide is the digital gap really for older adults?


By Dr Debbie Pu 

The digital gap experienced by older adults has been much discussed with the rise of technology, including in healthcare, and the COVID-19 global pandemic has only added to the attention to this issue. The term 'digital gap' is often brought up in discussions of barriers that older adults may experience with technology use, but is this gap still as unique to older adults as we thought? And if so, still as wide as it used to be?

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index1 has been tracking data on the digital connectedness of Australians, using the dimensions of “access”, “digital skills/ability” and “affordability” and data from the Australian Internet Usage Survey. In 2020, in those aged 65-74 years old, 34% were profiled as highly excluded and 30% as excluded; in those aged 75 years and older, 60% were profiled as highly excluded and 24% as excluded. This is in contrast with the national average of 17% of the population profiled as highly excluded and 17% as excluded, and even lower exclusion rates for younger cohorts.

In 2021, exclusion rates have improved nationally, including in Australians aged 65 and older, but they still have higher rates of exclusion compared to younger cohorts and the national average. 17% of Australians aged 65 years and older reported a lack of confidence in using the internet as a reason for their digital exclusion. This may be linked to the much lower digital ability found for older cohorts than younger ones and the national average. While these gaps can be observed for Australians with different education, income, and household backgrounds, the gaps for age remain the widest (see The 2021 Australian Digital Inclusion Index report2 or interactive data dashboard3 for details).

Around the world, this digital gap continues to be highlighted.4 Even with digital inclusion and internet connectivity, there may be more gaps to be overcome in the use of smart devices and smart device applications,5 especially for health apps. Cognitive and physical barriers can prevent the efficient and accurate use of apps, and negative attitudes toward the apps can lead to discontinuation of their use.6 And what about privacy and data concerns? When we urge and teach older adults to embrace the digital world, how are we equipping them to identify and avoid scams?7

The digital gap appears to be still wide open for older adults. As clinicians and researchers, what are we really doing when we recommend an older patient or research participant to follow a link provided in an email? To complete a survey using a QR code? To use a smart phone app to monitor their daily steps? Perhaps it’s just that: the request or task at face value, performed with a few clicks, taps and swipes. Or perhaps the clicks and swipes need to be preceded by a long list of preparations that lead to the individual completely abandoning the task altogether.

There are no easy solutions nor answers, but what we can all do is to mind the (digital) gap.


13 July 2023


  5. Ivan, L., & Cutler, S. J. (2021). Older adults and the digital divide in Romania: implications for the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Elder Policy, 1(3).
  6. Rasche, P., Wille, M., Bröhl, C., Theis, S., Schäfer, K., Knobe, M., & Mertens, A. (2018). Prevalence of health app use among older adults in Germany: national survey. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 6(1), e8619.
  7. Alagood, J., Prybutok, G., & Prybutok, V. R. (2023). Navigating Privacy and Data Safety: The Implications of Increased Online Activity among Older Adults Post-COVID-19 Induced Isolation. Information, 14(6), 346.

Dr Debbie Pu is a research fellow at Monash University. She is currently a member of the DEIVER project funded by the MRFF, which aims to improve home-based care for older adults in western Victoria.