Cognitive Ability and Internet Use Among Older Adults

Authors: Jeremy Freese, Salvador Rivas and Eszter Hargittai

Download: PDF (137 KB)

Citation: Freese, J., Rivas, S. & Hargittai, E. ( 2006). Cognitive Ability and Internet Use Among Older Adults. Poetics. (Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts) 34(4), 236-249.


While previous work has found cognitive ability to be strongly associated with whether older adults use the Internet, we consider whether cognitive ability also differentiates basic aspects of use. Four measures of use are considered: having high-speed access, length of time since initial household adoption, self-reported time using the Internet, and whether any of the respondents. Internet use involves the Web in addition to email. In all cases, we find associations with cognitive ability, although effects are sometimes mediated to nonsignificance by subsequent attainments, especially education. Given how central social support is to discussions of older adults navigating the Internet, we look also at reports of the availability of such support, and we find that cognition is positively related to respondents having someone available to help them with Internet problems. Taken together, our results suggest strongly that the already cognitively advantaged are much better positioned to reap the potential benefits of online tools to help older adults navigate social benefits and make complicated decisions.


  • Introduction
  • Cognition and explaining differential Internet use
  • Data
  • Results
  • Conclusion


We thank Paul DiMaggio, Keith Roe, and Robert Hauser for helpful comments. This work was supported by funding from the National Institute of Aging (to Freese and Rivas) and a Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey Pilot Grant (to Hargittai).

Note: You may not post a copy of the article pdf on any Web sites or distribute it on any mailing lists. You can point people to its online location here:

If you would like to copy, distribute or reprint this paper “for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research” (see Title 17, US Copyright Code) then please contact the publisher to secure permission.