Aging in the Digital Age: Conceptualizing Technology Adoption and Digital Inequalities

  • Jessica FrancisEmail author
  • Christopher Ball
  • Travis Kadylak
  • Shelia R. Cotten


In this chapter, we synthesize prior empirical research focused on digital inequalities among older adults. We highlight studies that detail both antecedents and consequences of the digital divide. We also discuss popular theories and models such as the theory of reasoned action, the technology adoption model, and the senior technology adoption model, which have served as the foundation for understanding technology adoption and use among older adults. Despite the prevalence of digital inequalities among older adults, our review points to findings that suggest that when older adults adopt and use information and communication technologies (ICTs) they can experience enhanced quality of life. We conclude this chapter by discussing directions for future research.


Aging Older adults Digital divide Digital inequality Technology Information and communication technologies 


  1. Anderson, M. & Perrin. (2017). Technology use among seniors. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology.Google Scholar
  2. Ball, C., Francis, J., Huang, K.-T., Kadylak, T., Cotten, S., & Rikard, R. (2017). The physical-digital divide: Exploring the social gap between digital natives and physical natives. Journal of Applied Gerontology.Google Scholar
  3. Barbosa Neves, B., Franz, R., Judges, R., Beermann, C., & Baecker, R. (2017). Can digital technology enhance social connectedness among older adults? A feasibility study. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 0733464817741369.Google Scholar
  4. Barnard, Y., Bradley, M. D., Hodgson, F., & Lloyd, A. D. (2013). Learning to use new technologies by older adults: Perceived difficulties, experimentation behaviour and usability. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1715–1724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berkowsky, R. W., Rikard, R. V., & Cotten, S. R. (2015). Signing off: Predicting discontinued ICT usage among older adults in assisted and independent living. In J. Zhou & G. Salvendy (Eds.), Human aspects of it for the aged population. Design for everyday life: First international conference, ITAP 2015, Held as Part of HCI International 2015, Los Angeles, CA, USA, August 2–7, 2015. Proceedings, Part II (pp. 389–398). Cham: Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from Scholar
  6. Blit-Cohen, E., & Litwin, H. (2004). Elder participation in cyberspace: A qualitative analysis of Israeli retirees. Journal of Aging Studies, 18, 385–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chan, M. (2015). Multimodal connectedness and quality of life: Examining the influences of technology adoption and interpersonal communication on well-being across the life span. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20, 3–18. Scholar
  8. Chen, K., & Chan, A. H. (2011). A review of technology acceptance by older adults. Gerontechnology, 10, 1–12.Google Scholar
  9. Chen, K., & Chan, A. H. S. (2014). Gerontechnology acceptance by elderly Hong Kong Chinese: A senior technology acceptance model (STAM). Ergonomics, 57, 635–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Choi, M., Kong, S., & Jung, D. (2012). Computer and Internet interventions for loneliness and depression in older adults: A meta-analysis. Healthcare Informatics Research, 18, 191–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chopik, W. J. (2016). The benefits of social technology use among older adults are mediated by reduced loneliness. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19, 551–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cotten, S. R. (2017). Examining the roles of technology in aging and quality of life. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 72, 823–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cotten, S. R., Anderson, W. A., & McCullough, B. M. (2013). Impact of internet use on loneliness and contact with others among older adults: Cross-sectional analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15, e39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cotten, S. R., Ford, G., Ford, S., & Hale, T. M. (2012b). Internet use and depression among older adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 496–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cotten, S. R., Ford, G., Ford, S., & Hale, T. M. (2014). Internet use and depression among retired older adults in the United States: A longitudinal analysis. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69, 763–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cotten, S. R., Francis, J., Kadylak, T., Rikard, R., Huang, T., Ball, C., & DeCook, J. (2016). A tale of two divides: Technology experiences among racially and socioeconomically diverse older adults. Paper presented at the International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population.Google Scholar
  17. Cotten, S. R., McCullough, B., & Adams, R. (2011). Technological influences on social ties across the lifespan. Handbook of Lifespan Psychology, 647–671.Google Scholar
  18. Cotten, S. R., Yost, E. A., Berkowsky, R. W., Winstead, V., & Anderson, W. A. (2017). Designing technology training for older adults in continuing care retirement communities.Google Scholar
  19. Courtin, E., & Knapp, M. (2015). Social isolation, loneliness and health in old age: A scoping review. Health & Social Care in the Community. Scholar
  20. Czaja, S. J., Boot, W. R., Charness, N., Rogers, W. A., Sharit, J. (2017). Improving social support for older adults through technology: Findings from the PRISM randomized controlled trial. The Gerontologist, gnw249.Google Scholar
  21. Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., & Warshaw, P. R. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: A comparison of two theoretical models. Management Science, 35, 982–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davison, E., & Cotten, S. R. (2003). Connection discrepancies: Unmasking further layers of the digital divide. First Monday, 8.Google Scholar
  23. Davison, E., & Cotten, S. R. (2009). Connection disparities: The importance of broadband connections. Handbook of research on overcoming digital divides: Constructing an equitable and competitive information society (p. 346).Google Scholar
  24. de Veer, A. J., Peeters, J. M., Brabers, A. E., Schellevis, F. G., Rademakers, J. J. J., & Francke, A. L. (2015). Determinants of the intention to use e-Health by community dwelling older people. BMC Health Services Research, 15, 103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. In K. Neckerman & S. Shafer (Eds.), Social inequality (pp. 355–400). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  26. Fazio, E. M. (2009). Sense of mattering in late life. In W. R. Avison, C. S. Aneshensel, S. Schieman, & B. Wheaton (Eds.), Advances in the conceptualization of the stress process (pp. 149–177). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Findlay, R. A. (2003). Interventions to reduce social isolation amongst older people: Where is the evidence? Ageing & Society, 23, 647–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: an introduction to theory and research (Addison-Wesley Series in Social Psychology). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  29. Francis, J., Kadylak, T., Cotten, S. R., & Rikard, R. V. (2016). When it comes to depression, ICT use matters: A longitudinal analysis of the effect of ICT use and mattering on depression among older adults. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 301–306). Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  30. Francis, J., Kadylak, T., Makki, T., Rikard, R. V., & Cotten, S. R. (In press). Catalyst to connection: When technical difficulties lead to social support for older adults. American Behavioral Scientist.Google Scholar
  31. Francis, J., Rikard, R. V., Cotten, S. R., & Kadylak, T. (2017). Does ICT use matter? How information & communication technology (ICT) use affects perceived mattering among a predominantly female sample of older adults residing in retirement communities. Information, Communication & Society.
  32. Freese, J., Rivas, S., & Hargittai, E. (2006). Cognitive ability and Internet use among older adults. Poetics, 34, 236–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in public place. New York: Glencoe: the free press.Google Scholar
  34. Heart, T., & Kalderon, E. (2013). Older adults: Are they ready to adopt health-related ICT? International Journal of Medical Informatics, 82, e209–e231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hargittai, E. (2002). Second-level digital divide: Differences in people’s online skills. First, Monday, 7.Google Scholar
  36. Hargittai, E., & Hinnant, A. (2008). Digital inequality: Differences in young adults’ use of the internet. Communication Research, 35, 602–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Holden, R. J., & Karsh, B. T. (2010). The technology acceptance model: Its past and its future in health care. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 43, 159–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Huang, K.-T., Robinson, L., & Cotten, S. (2015). Mind the emotional gap: The impact of emotional costs on student learning outcomes. In L. Robinson, S. Cotten, J. Schulz, T. Hale & A. Williams (Eds.), Communication and information technologies annual (Studies in media and communications (Vol. 10, pp. 121–144). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  39. Kadylak, T., Francis, J., Cotten, S. R., Rikard, R. V., LaRose, R., Makki, T., et al. (2016). Extending the STAM: The role of habit in the acceptance of technology. Gerontechnology, 15(suppl), 39s. Scholar
  40. Kadylak, T., Makki, T., Francis, J., Cotten, S. R., Rikard, R. V., & Sah, Y. (2017, May). Disrupted copresence: An analysis of older adults’ views on the impact of ICT use during FtF interactions. Paper presented at International Communication Association Conference, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  41. Khosravi, P., Rezvani, A., & Wiewiora, A. (2016). The impact of technology on older adults’ social isolation. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 594–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. King, W. R., & He, J. (2006). A meta-analysis of the technology acceptance model. Information & Management, 43, 740–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. LaRose, R. (2015). The psychology of interactive media habits. The handbook of the psychology of communication technology (pp. 365–383).Google Scholar
  44. Legris, P., Ingham, J., & Collerette, P. (2003). Why do people use information technology? A critical review of the technology acceptance model. Information & Management, 40(3), 191–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ma, Q., Chen, K., Chan, A. H. S., & Teh, P. L. (2015, August). Acceptance of ICTs by older adults: A review of recent studies. In International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population (pp. 239–249). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McMellon, C. A., & Schiffman, L. G. (2002). Cybersenior empowerment: How some older individuals are taking control of their lives. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 21, 157–175. Scholar
  47. Millward, P. (2003). The ‘grey digital divide’: Perception, exclusion and barriers of access to the Internet for older people. First Monday, 8.Google Scholar
  48. Niehaves, B., & Plattfaut, R. (2014). Internet adoption by the elderly: employing IS technology acceptance theories for understanding the age-related digital divide. European Journal of Information Systems, 23, 708–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nowak, K. (2001, May). Defining and differentiating copresence, social presence and presence as transportation. In Presence 2001 Conference, Philadelphia, PA (pp. 1–23).Google Scholar
  50. Peek, S. T., Wouters, E. J., van Hoof, J., Luijkx, K. G., Boeije, H. R., & Vrijhoef, H. J. (2014). Factors influencing acceptance of technology for aging in place: A systematic review. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 83, 235–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Petersen, J., Kaye, J., Jacobs, P. G., Quinones, A., Dodge, H., Arnold, A., et al. (2016). Longitudinal relationship between loneliness and social isolation in older adults: Results from the cardiovascular health study. Journal of Aging and Health, 28, 775–795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Renaud, K., & Van Biljon, J. (2008). Predicting technology acceptance and adoption by the elderly: A qualitative study. In Proceedings of the 2008 Annual Research Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists on IT research in developing countries: Riding the Wave of Technology (pp. 210–219). ACM.Google Scholar
  53. Robinson, L. (2009). A taste for the necessary. Information, Communication & Society, 12, 488–507. Scholar
  54. Robinson, L. (2012). Information-seeking 2.0: The effects of informational advantage. RESET—Social Science Research on the Internet, 1, 89–115.Google Scholar
  55. Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community and Mental Health, 2, 163–182.Google Scholar
  56. Selwyn, N. (2004). Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide. New Media & Society, 6, 341–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shankar, A., McMunn, A., Demakakos, P., Hamer, M., & Steptoe, A. (2017). Social isolation and loneliness: Prospective associations with functional status in older adults. Health Psychology, 36, 179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schieman, S., & Taylor, J. (2001). Statuses, roles, and the sense of mattering. Sociological Perspectives, 44, 469–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Schroeder, R. (2010). Mobile phones and the inexorable advance of multimodal connectedness. New Media & Society, 12, 75–90. Scholar
  60. Smith, A. (2014). Older adults and technology use: Adoption is increasing, but many seniors remain isolated from digital life. Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, A. (2014). Older adults and technology use: Usage and adoption. Pew research: Internet project from
  62. Taylor, J., & Turner, R. J. (2001). A longitudinal study of the role and significance of mattering to others for depressive symptoms. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42, 310–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thoits, P. (2011). Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 145–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Tichenor, P., Donohue, G., & Olien, C. (1970). Mass media flow and differential growth in knowledge. Public Opinions Quarterly, 34, 159–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tsai, H. S., Rikard, R.V., Cotten, S.R., & Shillair, R. (2015b). Live and learn: Older adults’ technology learning, A quantitative approach. Paper presented at International Communication Association Conference 2015, San Juan, Puerto Rico.Google Scholar
  66. Tsai, H.-Y., Shillair, R., Cotten, S. R., Winstead, V., & Yost, E. (2015a). Getting grandma online: Are tablets the answer for increasing digital inclusion for older adults in the U.S.? Educational Gerontology, 41, 695–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Van Deursen, A., & Helsper, E. J. (2015). The third-level digital divide: who benefits most from being online? In L. Robinson, S. R. Cotten, J. Schulz, T. M. Hale & A. Williams (Eds.), Communication and information technologies annual (Vol. 10, pp. 29–52): Emerald Group Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  68. Van Deursen, A., & Van Dijk, J. (2013). The digital divide shifts to differences in usage. New Media Society, 16, 507–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Van Dijk, J. (2005). The deepening divide: Inequality in the information society. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  70. Van Dijk, J., & Hacker, K. (2003). The digital divide as a complex and dynamic phenomenon. The Information Society, 19, 315–326. Scholar
  71. Verplanken, B., & Orbell, S. (2003). Reflections on past behavior: A self-report index of habit strength. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 1313–1330. Scholar
  72. Wang, L., Rau, P. L. P., & Salvendy, G. (2011). Older adults’ acceptance of information technology. Educational Gerontology, 37, 1081–1099.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Waycott, J., Vetere, F., Pedell, S., Kulik, L., Ozanne, E., Gruner, A., & Downs, J. (2013, April). Older adults as digital content producers. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 39–48). ACM.Google Scholar
  74. Williams, M. D., Rana, N. P., Dwivedi, Y. K., & Lal, B. (2011, June). Is UTAUT really used or just cited for the sake of it? A systematic review of citations of UTAUT’s originating article. In ECIS (p. 231).Google Scholar
  75. Winstead, V., Anderson, W. A., Yost, E. A., Cotten, S. R., Warr, A., & Berkowsky, R. W. (2013). You can teach an old dog new tricks: A qualitative analysis of how residents of senior living communities may use the web to overcome spatial and social barriers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 32, 540–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Yuan, S., Hussain, S. A., Hales, K. D., & Cotten, S. R. (2016). What do they like? Communication preferences and patterns of older adults in the United States: The role of technology. Educational Gerontology, 42, 163–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Francis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher Ball
    • 1
  • Travis Kadylak
    • 1
  • Shelia R. Cotten
    • 1
  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations