Diversity in older adults’ use of the internet: Identifying subgroups through latent class analysis

L.C. Van Boekel, S.T.M. Peek, K.G. Luijkx

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As for all individuals, the Internet is important in the everyday life of older adults. Research on older adults’ use of the Internet has merely focused on users versus nonusers and consequences of Internet use and nonuse. Older adults are a heterogeneous group, which may implicate that their use of the Internet is diverse as well. Older adults can use the Internet for different activities, and this usage can be of influence on benefits the Internet can have for them.
The aim of this paper was to describe the diversity or heterogeneity in the activities for which older adults use the Internet and determine whether diversity is related to social or health-related variables.
We used data of a national representative Internet panel in the Netherlands. Panel members aged 65 years and older and who have access to and use the Internet were selected (N=1418). We conducted a latent class analysis based on the Internet activities that panel members reported to spend time on. Second, we described the identified clusters with descriptive statistics and compared the clusters using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and chi-square tests.
Four clusters were distinguished. Cluster 1 was labeled as the “practical users” (36.88%, n=523). These respondents mainly used the Internet for practical and financial purposes such as searching for information, comparing products, and banking. Respondents in Cluster 2, the “minimizers” (32.23%, n=457), reported lowest frequency on most Internet activities, are older (mean age 73 years), and spent the smallest time on the Internet. Cluster 3 was labeled as the “maximizers” (17.77%, n=252); these respondents used the Internet for various activities, spent most time on the Internet, and were relatively younger (mean age below 70 years). Respondents in Cluster 4, the “social users,” mainly used the Internet for social and leisure-related activities such as gaming and social network sites. The identified clusters significantly differed in age (P<.001, ω2=0.07), time spent on the Internet (P<.001, ω2=0.12), and frequency of downloading apps (P<.001, ω2=0.14), with medium to large effect sizes. Social and health-related variables were significantly different between the clusters, except social and emotional loneliness. However, effect sizes were small. The minimizers scored significantly lower on psychological well-being, instrumental activities of daily living (iADL), and experienced health compared with the practical users and maximizers.
Older adults are a diverse group in terms of their activities on the Internet. This underlines the importance to look beyond use versus nonuse when studying older adults’ Internet use. The clusters we have identified in this study can help tailor the development and deployment of eHealth intervention to specific segments of the older population.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere180
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR)
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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