In the UK there are still 7.63 million adults (15%) who have never used the internet (ONS, 2012)1. Yet digital exclusion risks that many people will not be able to play an active part in local society or civil activities2. These offline groups are more likely to be the more vulnerable members of society, those who are older, who have disabilities or those lower down the socioeconomic spectrum.

Despite many attempts to widen access to the internet among older people and other excluded groups over the last 15 years, progress has been slow. For many years, the private sector has made it more difficult to purchase certain products and services without internet access. Over recent years, the public sector has increasingly sought to deliver more services exclusively online. This move to a „Digital by Default‟ agenda risks leaving some of the most vulnerable people in society without support and heavily excluded from the online world.  Yet whilst the internet has become more important, publicly funded formal and informal learning has declined.

This report examines the three main reasons why people in general, and older people more particularly, don‟t use the internet, but concentrates explicitly on the comparatively poorly studied area of behavioural choice (whether someone sees a potential benefit in being an internet user).

Analysing data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), this report highlights a number of behavioural traits which accompany internet usage, particularly amongst older people.

  • There was a strong association between the measure of internet use and organisation, group and club membership. Conversely there was also a strong relationship between internet use and „NOT being a member of any organisation, club or society‟.
  • People who reported using the internet tended to report feeling more in control of various aspects of their lives.
  • People who didn’t own a computer were more likely to feel that they were unable to learn a new skill, while conversely people who did own a computer were more likely to agree that they could.
  • People who reported not using the internet were more likely to say that they „often‟ felt isolated from others. Conversely, people who said they did use the internet were more likely to respondthat they „hardly ever or never‟ felt isolated. The same pattern was found for loneliness.

This report goes on to explore the potential of behavioural economics in tackling digital exclusion and examine whether behavioural economics might be used as an intervention to encourage use of the internet among older people. We then make a series of policy recommendations using „nudge‟ tactics to achieve greater digital inclusion for older people.

Read the full report