Friday, 13 January 2012

Tackling the digital divide. Should we compel, educate, or nudge people online?

The use of behavioural economics in the context of policy for older people has been high on our agenda over the past year. ILC-UK has explored the potential for behavioural economics to increase pension saving. We have also looked to how these theories can help support older people to make the right decisions about when to stop driving. And we have considered the potential for using behavioural theories to encourage people to make the right health decisions.

Over the next few months (kindly supported by the Nominet Trust) we will be exploring the role of behavioural economics in relation to the continuing digital exclusion faced by many older people.

The latest (November 2011) Internet Access Quarterly Update [1] highlights the scale of the challenge ahead. By the third quarter of 2011, 8.43 million adults had never used the Internet. While 98.6% of 16 to 24 are Internet users, just 27% of those aged over 75 have ever used the internet.
And whilst many highlight increases in online activities by older people, progress is actually very slow. Between the first and third quarter of 2011, the percentage of 65 to 74 year olds who have ever used the internet grew from just 57.1% to 58.7%. This growth amounted to just under 40,000 fewer people in this age group who had never used the internet.

We learnt more about internet usage and age in the ONS report, Internet Access – Households and Individuals [2], published in late August last year.
The statistics revealed that:
• Older people haven’t caught the social networking bug. Whilst it is a popular activity for 91% of 16 to 24 year old internet users, only 18% of over 65s participated in social networking.
• 5.7 million households have no internet access
• We have seen significant growth in mobile internet access which may be creating a new digital divide. 71% of 16-24 year olds use mobile internet compared with just 8% of those aged 65 plus.
• There remains a significant gender gap in internet use. Men aged over 75 are almost twice as likely to have ever used the internet as women of same age (21.6% cf 35.2%)

Our piece of work will attempt to take a new approach to explore what we can do to get people online. Put simply, should we compel, educate, or nudge people online?

We know that 32 million people (66% adults) have purchased goods over the internet. But we seem to buy different things online as we age. The most popular internet purchases for over 65s are travel related. Perhaps this emphasises the importance of compulsion. Buying travel tickets can be very difficult if you don’t do it online.

At the same time, older people are more likely than other ages to confess to lacking skills. Those aged over 65 are twice as likely than 16-24 year olds (29% compared with 15%) to claim they don’t have the skills to protect personal data online. 23% of those aged 65 plus claim their computer skills are not proficient to protect themselves from viruses (compared with 14% of 16 to 24 year olds). So perhaps the key remains in education. But if so, how can we deliver it in a cost-effective way when funding for adult learning is thinly stretched?

Or are there other approaches we can learn from behavioural economics. Can we find new and innovative ways to nudge people online?

Our view is that this shouldn’t be an issue we ignore. So should we force, educate or nudge people online? What do you think?

David Sinclair

[1] Internet Access Quarterly – Office of National Statistics
[2] Internet Access – Households and Individuals, 2011—households-and-individuals/2011/stb-internet-access-2011.html