“Not without my cell phone” – also applies to the over-50s

June 2016

Whether it’s using WhatsApp to organize your next walk with your hiking group, using smartphone navigation apps to find your way back to the car park during a city break, or checking contact details to find the forgotten street number of an important client, there are many advantages to be gained by cell phone users. For a long time, people over the age of 50 have also been discovering the many benefits offered by cell phones and smartphones. The proportion of the older generation owning a cell phone or smartphone is constantly growing. A total of 60% of those aged 50 to 59 already own a smartphone. This figure is 37% among 60 to 69-year-olds and 14% among the over-70s.

Nearly all respondents aged 50-59 own a mobile device. In 2012, 93% of these respondents had a cell phone. By 2014, this had increased to 96%, before remaining stable in 2016.  Although the high starting position only provides limited scope for improvement, there was a marked increase in the number of smartphone owners in this age bracket: from 7% in 2012, to 32% in 2014 before reaching an impressive 60% in 2016. These are the results of the GfK Consumer Study on the subject of mobile communication in which as many as 2,000 Germans – as well as individuals from other European countries – were asked questions on this topic for the third time.

“Not without my cell phone” also applies to the majority of respondents aged between 60 and 69. Overall, 80% of this age group owned a cell phone back in 2012. A gentle increase to 83% was then observed in 2014, followed by an increase to 88% now. The proportion of smartphone owners has increased approximately three-fold from survey to survey: from 4% (2012) to 13% (2014) and 37% (2016). The massive increase demonstrates how these devices are even gaining ground among the over-60s. This could be down to the fact that this generation have become familiar with cell phones and smartphones in their workplace, and have learnt to appreciate them.

Three quarters of respondents aged 70+ now own a cell phone: this represents an increase on the 54% recorded in 2012 and 65% in 2014 to the current figure of and 75% in 2016. However, they are slower to make the switch to a smartphone than younger generations. In 2012, only 0.3% of this age bracket could lay claim to having their own “minicomputer” which can also be used to make phone calls. This figure had risen to 4% in 2014, with the 2016 figure reaching 14%. Among other reasons, this is attributable to older users keeping their mobile devices longer than their younger counterparts, as opposed to regularly switching to newer models. For them, it is sufficient to be contactable by phone and/make phone calls, above all in an emergency. They may also have no desire to work out how to use a new device, especially as these do not always come with easily understandable written instructions.

A total of 85% of respondents aged 50-59 use the internet

For many Germans, especially the young, the internet has become a central pillar of everyday life. However, 50 to 59-year-olds are also well versed in today’s online culture. In 2012, 72% of respondents in this age bracket said they had been online in the previous four weeks. Just two years later there had been an increase of 10%; today the figure stands at 85%. At the same time, half of 60 to 69-year-olds were active online in 2012. The 2014 survey revealed an increase to 55%, before a significant rise to 68% was recorded on this occasion. Seniors, i.e. respondents aged 70+, clearly spend less time surfing the internet in comparison with other age groups within the 50+ generation. Yet the proportion of internet users increased rapidly among the very oldest users, from 17% in 2012 to 29% in 2014. Today, it is at 38%. The signs are clear: there is, and will not be, a “retirement” age for internet users. After all, today’s 50-year-olds will be the 60 and 70-year-olds of tomorrow and beyond.

Smartphones increase independence

It was not so long ago that we would have to seek out an internet café on holiday if we wanted to send pictures back to our loved ones and check our emails. Today, smartphones mean it is possible to be online anytime, anywhere – practical, and not just in the minds of young people, because they grant increased independence to people of all ages. Older people also appreciate the fact that an internet connection makes it possible to see when the next bus or train is scheduled to arrive or where the nearest petrol station, hotel or restaurant is located. The statistics speak for themselves: the percentage of older people using a smartphone to access the internet has almost tripled in the last three years. Among the oldest, it has even quadrupled. Among 50 to 59-year-olds, an increase from 23% in 2012 to 41% in 2014 was observed. Today, 64% of respondents in this age group use their cell phone to access the internet. The picture is similar among 60 to 69-year-olds. In 2012, only 15% used their cell phone to access the internet, rising to 26% in 2014 and finally 40% in 2016. At first, only 4% of respondents aged 70+ made use of smartphone internet access. This increased to 9% in 2014 and then 17% in 2016.

For many people, their cell phone/smartphone has now become an essential companion, providing daily support. Increasingly, this also applies to those aged over 50, as is evidenced by their agreement with various statements and attitudes regarding usage behavior and the importance of cell phones. For example, 62% of 50 to 59-year-olds, 39% of 60 to 69-year-olds and as many as one-fifth of respondents aged 70+ agreed with the statement “I am easiest to reach on my cell phone/smartphone”. It is presumably for this reason that an increasing number of respondents even give out their cell phone number as opposed to their landline. Of respondents, 31% of those between 50 and 59 agreed with this statement. For 60 to 69-year-olds this statement applied to just 19%. Among the over-70s, it was just 7%.

“Anytime, anywhere cell phone/smartphone, laptop or tablet internet access saves me a lot of time“ – A total of 45% of 50 to 59-year-olds, 32% of 60 to 69-year-olds and 13% of respondents aged 70+ agreed with this statement. It represents confirmation that mobile devices have become everyday aids. A proportion of respondents already use their mobile device to organise their life, including contacts, meetings and navigation. Of respondents aged between 50 and 59, 28% agreed that this applied to them. This figure stood at 18% among 60 to 69-year-olds and 8% for respondents aged 70+.

In view of the plethora of data which comes with a cell phone/smartphone, it is perhaps unsurprising that older people would find it a catastrophe if they were to lose their “minicomputer”.  Of 50 to 59-year olds, 17% agreed with the statement “Losing my cell phone/smartphone would be harder than losing my wallet“. This was also true of 11% of 60 to 69-year-olds and 7% of respondents aged 70+.

Times have changed massively. The internet, cell phones and these handheld minicomputers (smartphones) which fit neatly into a blazer pocket have noticeably transformed many facets of our day-to-day lives. What was once expensive or time-consuming – international phone calls or banking processes, for example – can now be done cheaply and easily on the move. People of all ages benefit from this. Today, “Not without my smartphone” is a catchphrase which no longer only applies to the younger generations.

Data source: GfK Consumer Study (2012, 2014, 2016)

Responsible for the article and contact person for queries about Compact: Claudia Gaspar (e-mail to hello@nim.org).