How many times today have you used the internet? Did you log onto Facebook this morning? Did you send an email from work? Are you reading this article online now? We’re guessing so, unless someone printed it out and gave it to you!
What if you had never used the web at all? It’s probably hard to imagine, but there are still people in the UK for whom the internet remains a completely alien experience.
New figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 9% of people in the UK have never been on the internet. This is down from 10% in 2016, but it still means that one in 11 of us have no web experience to speak of. It’s a remarkable statistic that in many ways highlights the digital divide between generations, especially since more than half of that 9% is over the age of 75.
The ONS study, released last Friday, breaks down internet use by age, gender and region, and it appears that the type of person least likely to have ever been online would be a Northern Irishwoman aged over 75, so let’s look at each of these demographics.
In the UK, the biggest barrier to internet use is without doubt age. While among those in the 55-64 age group, 90% have used the web ‘recently’ (within the past three months), this drops to 78% among Brits aged 65-74, and then to well below half (41%) among over-75s. A total of 2.6 million people in this age group have yet to use the web at all.
An age gap may not be surprising, but there is also some disparity between sexes. While 90% of men have used the internet recently, only 88% of women can say the same. What’s more, among over-75s, there is more than a 10% difference in recent internet use between men and women.
Of the 12 parts of the UK studied, Northern Ireland has the greatest percentage of people who have never used the web, at 14.6%. This is followed by the North East at 12.1%, while the North West is somewhere in the middle at 9.7%. Londoners are the least likely to be internet greenhorns, with only 6% having never been online.
According to Broadband Northern Ireland, the region has 100% high-speed web access and was the first part of Europe to achieve this, so it’s to be hoped that the Six Counties will embrace the web more in the coming years.
Will this ever change?
Probably. The study also noted that the demographic with the biggest change in recent internet usage since 2011 is women aged 75+, among whom the number of recent users has trebled in six years.
It’s important to remember as well that these statistics are bound to keep changing. In a decade’s time, the 78% of recent internet users aged 65-74 will all be over 75, and it’s unlikely they will stop using the internet simply because they are older. As more and more people become familiarised with the web at a younger age, it seems increasingly probable that the web will play a part in their twilight years.