August 27, 2010, 2:34 PM

Older adults’ use of online social networks nearly doubles in a year

But a Pew study finds that e-mail remains more popular.

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73% of Internet users aged 50 and older use social networking, up from 38% last year, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center.

Pew based the findings on a survey of 2,252 U.S. adults between April 29 and May 30. “While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools,” writes report author Mary Madden, a senior research specialist for Pew.

The report, part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, says that 47% of Internet users between the ages of 50 and 64 use social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, as do 26% of users aged 65 and older. That is up from last year’s figures of 25% and 15%, respectively.

Twitter use also has increased among older Internet users. 11% of online adults between the ages of 50 and 64 use the service or similar ones, up from 5% in last year’s survey. 5% of Internet users 65 and older use Twitter; Pew did not provide a previous figure.

The report did not comment about what the use of social networking sites by older consumers might mean for online retailers.

But the report did offer theories about why older consumers are spending more time on social networks. Older web users, like younger ones, want to reconnect with people. Additionally, with older adults more likely to have chronic diseases, the desire to reach out for online support is strong.  Finally, social network enables older adults to communicate and share photos and news with distant relatives, including children and grandchildren.

Despite the increasing use of social networking among older adults, e-mail and the consumption of online news remain far more popular. 92% of web users aged 50 to 64, and 89% aged 65 and older, send or read e-mails, the Pew survey says. 76% of users aged 50 to 64, and 62% aged 65 and older, seek news online.

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