Internet use among older Canadians

August 27, 2001

Canadians 60 and over may be in danger of being left behind as the Internet increases in importance as a method of communication. They are much less likely to use the Internet than younger people, according to the in-depth study of individuals’ use of computer and Internet technology conducted by the General Social Survey (GSS) in 2000.

Only 13% of older people, or 614,000, had used the Internet during the previous year, compared to 63% of younger people. Twice as many older men (17%) as women (9%) were online.

The profile of older people as a group is very different from that of older Internet users. For example, older Internet users have higher levels of education and income than other older people. Though most are retired, employment was also a positive factor related to Internet use. Being among the “oldest old,” female or living alone were related to lower incidence of use.

Most older people do not think it is important that everyone have access to the Internet (only 28% compared with 52% of those under 60). Moreover, only 8% of non-users were interested in starting. However, attitudes were not the only barriers to Internet use. Among those who were interested in starting, and did not already have a connection in their home, access to a computer or the Internet (30%), cost (26%), lack of time (15%) and lack of skills or training (14%) were most often cited as the greatest barriers.

Older people who had used the Internet the previous month averaged 5.7 hours per week on-line. Most of this time was spent on a home connection (5.6 hours per week). More than half searched for information on goods and services (57%) in the previous month, and accessed online news sites (54%). More than one-third searched for health and medical information (38%).

Most older Internet users use e-mail and use it frequently to communicate with family and friends. Seven in ten of those who used it in the previous month used it at least several times a week. During the month before they were interviewed, 84% had communicated with family this way and 77% with friends.

Four in ten older women on the Internet and one in four older men had started using it within the previous year. The short time they have been on-line is consistent with the growth in household use observed in July’s Household Internet Use Survey release. However, this growth is based on a small number of users, and it would take some time to match the penetration rates among younger people.

Older Internet users rated their computer skills higher than did older people who used a computer but had not used the Internet. While 48% of older Internet users had developed some of their skills in the workplace, 35% were self-taught without training from a workplace or an educational institution.

Note: Data for this report are from Cycle 14 of the GSS, “Access to and use of information communication technology.” The GSS is an annual telephone sample survey covering the non-institutionalized population aged 15 and over in all provinces but not the territories. The topic in 2000 was access to and use of computer and Internet technology. Data were collected over a 12-month period, with a different sample each month. Internet penetration rates were estimated on the basis of the respondent’s reported use during the previous year, from the time of the survey. Data on use were estimated based on the respondent’s use during the previous month.

The representative sample had 25,090 respondents, representing an 81% response rate. The survey results include information from 6,178 persons aged 60 and over, 2,403 men and 3,775 women. These were weighted to represent 2,191,600 men and 2,676,200 women in this age group.

Data from the 2000 GSS complement other Statistics Canada surveys on this topic, particularly the Household Internet Survey, which collects information from Canadian households and is administered to a sub-sample of households that participate in the Labour Force Survey.

Internet use among older Canadians (56F0004MIE, free), the fourth issue of the Connectedness Series, is now available on Statistics Canada’s Web site ( From the Products and services page, choose Research papers (free), then Communications.

General results from Cycle 14 of the General Social Survey: Internet use were released in The Daily on March 26. For data or additional information contact Client Services and Dissemination (613-951-5979; fax: 613-951-0387;, Housing, Family and Social Statistics Division.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Cynthia Silver (613-951-2101,, Housing Family and Social Statistics Division.