Digital gap among 55+, 65+ population in Puerto Rico persists, SME study shows
People 55 and older living in Puerto Rico experienced the most significant increases in internet access and digital media use, increasing from 62% in 2019 to 86.5% in 2021, while those 65 and over jumped from 28% to 43.6%.
However, even with this jump of more than 657,000 people 55+ who are connected, gaps in access persist by gender, age, income level, and education, a study commissioned by the Puerto Rico Sales and Marketing Executives Association (SME, in Spanish) showed.
Those segments represent 35% of the island’s population and were the focus of the SME’s 2021 Digital Trends Study, unveiled during a webinar conducted by Estudios Técnicos Executive Anitza Cox and a group of panelists including José Acarón of AARP Puerto Rico, Ian Carlo Serna of the Telecommunications Bureau, and Sebastián Vidal of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust.
“Through the analysis, we see differences between the people who are connected to digital media and those who aren’t. In the case of those who are connected, they are mostly women with a higher level of education and income, as well as younger people within this age segment,” said Cox, director of the department of analysis and social policy at Estudios Técnicos Inc.
“Those who aren’t connected are mainly men with a lower educational level and income,” she said.
Another of the most significant changes observed is the percentage of people 55+ making online purchases and the amount they spend on products. Currently, 42.7% of people aged 55 to 64 make online purchases and spend about $400; in the case of people aged 65 or over it is 29.7% and they spend $229. In Puerto Rico, the median spending on online purchases is $329.
“Although the study didn’t delve into the reasons for purchases, we could infer that it is partly because the pandemic has caused the opening of additional shopping channels and applications that allow greater access to a population that may in part have mobility problems,” Cox said.
The mobile phone continues to play an important role — 97.3% of the population aged 55 to 64 have a mobile phone, as well as 83.2% of those over 65, which is the main tool to connect to the web.
In the area of services, the use of applications aimed at money transfer stands out among both age groups, with 64.3% of use among the 55+ group and 62.5% among those 65+, with ATH Móvil the preferred app for this purpose.
In the areas of food services (10.7%), transportation (7.1%) and grocery shopping (10.7%), only the 55–64-year-old group confirmed making use of these types of applications.
“There’s a great opportunity for economic development for Puerto Rico among the entrepreneurial segment of seniors 50+ but we have to continue training them in the area of technology to create greater social capital,” said Acarón, emphasizing the importance of access to technology to maintain quality of life, with a focus on leveling access to services and access to information to promote more empowered consumers.
He also emphasized the importance of educating people about cyber security, fraud, and misinformation.
Meanwhile, Vidal said according to a study by Colmena 66, 60% of small businesses that have faced the greatest challenges dealing with digital transformation belong to owners 45 years of age and older.
“The technology exists, there are funds, what is lacking is to start executing more initiatives to close the gap,” Vidal said.
“The data reflects that, although progress has been made, it’s everyone’s responsibility: the state, municipalities, companies and nonprofit organizations to promote equity in access to digital media because they represent an opportunity for the 65+ population be able to connect with services that are important to your quality of life,” Cox said.
The SME’s goal with this analysis is to help better understand the digital divide, promote digital equity and how the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital media among this segment of the population in areas such as shopping, entertainment and services, the professional organization said. The 2021 Digital Trends Study was conducted through a personal survey, in two stages, which included a total sample of 673 people.