Bridging the Digital Divide: Advancing Access and Equity for Older Adults
As the UK’s ageing population continues to grow, this digital divide poses a significant challenge for businesses and policymakers alike. What can be done to bridge the gap and ensure that everyone can participate fully in the digital age?
With over 11 million people aged over 65, an ageing population in England and Wales is a significant demographic trend impacting the adoption of digital products and services. To ensure their access to vital services and participate fully in society, the digital divide must be addressed by policymakers and businesses alike.
A recent report by the European Money and Finance Forum (SUERF) confirms this trend, finding that globally, older generations are less likely to use digital payments and financial technology than younger generations.
The report notes that the digital divide by age declines with higher income and education in the demographic, indicating that age disparities are highly pronounced within marginalized groups who are disadvantaged in other ways. Interestingly, survey evidence suggests that the digital divide by age is due to attitudes towards new financial technology rather than differences in concerns with data privacy as older citizens tend to perceive limited benefits from nascent and forthcoming financial technology and digital tools—which makes them less inclined towards adopting them.
As digital financial products and services continue to dominate the industry, traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches are on the decline, leaving behind segments of the population, particularly older individuals, who prefer cash or offline transactions. This trend could result in a “digital divide” between generations, limiting access to financial services for those who are less tech-savvy. Meanwhile, ongoing projects involving central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) may further accelerate the shift towards digitalization.
The great digital divide is quickly exacerbating into a matter of global concern.
According to a recent report by the United Nations, the number of people aged 60 and above is projected to reach 2.1 billion by 2050, with many of them living in low and middle-income countries. These individuals may have limited access to digital infrastructure and services, leaving them further excluded from the digital economy.
Bridging the digital divide will require proactive measures by businesses, policymakers, and financial institutions to ensure that everyone has access to the benefits of digital financial services, according to the SUERF.
The researchers recommend public authorities promote digital literacy and ascertain that high-speed internet IoT (Internet of Things) devices are accessible to all. The Federal Reserve System is a remarkable case in digital advocacy in the United States. The body has advocated for greater access to broadband internet, especially in rural areas where access to high-speed internet is limited, and has supported the teaching of digital skills to enable all individuals to use digital financial services.
Secondly, the body urges authorities to encourage private companies to design digital financial services that are accessible to older users, who may be more comfortable with cash and face-to-face transactions. This includes making user interfaces for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) easy to use and intuitive for a wide range of users.
Finally, the report recommends public authorities and financial institutions mandate the continued use of “offline” payments, such as cash, and ensure that bank branches and ATMs are widely available to the older populace. As younger users who are more comfortable with digital payments age, some of the digital divides may naturally decrease. However, other disparities based on factors such as income and education may persist, making it important for authorities to take action to ensure that all citizens have access to digital financial services.
As we usher into a new era of digitalization, it is important to consider that technological development is just, equitable and inclusive for all members of society—regardless of their age, geographic location, or education.
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