“Nudge or Compel?: Can behavioural economics tackle the digital exclusion of older people?”, supported by social investor Nominet Trust, explores how we can use behavioural economics to tackle the digital exclusion of older people.

The report highlights that over 7.5 million adults have never used the internet. The majority of non-users are older, have disabilities or are in the lowest social classes.

The report highlights new analysis of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) on the behavioural traits which accompany internet usage among older people. It finds that:

  • 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 respond that they ‘hardly ever or never’ felt isolated. The same pattern was found for loneliness.

Launching the report, Baroness Sally Greengross said:
“Technology plays an increasingly important part in our society yet millions of older people are still not online. This report highlights a strong association between being offline and isolation, loneliness and a perception of not being in control.  As more and more private and public services are made available exclusively online, there is a risk of greater exclusion. Technology is not just for younger people, it is for all of us. Yet as we move services online, “Digital by Default” must play a role in nudging those people who are offline towards the internet.”

Annika Small, chief executive at Nominet Trust comments: “Digital technology can play a key role in creating strong networks for people in later life that will help reduce isolation and loneliness. It is critical that we find ways to motivate older people to get online by demonstrating how the internet can strengthen vital social ties that will help them to remain active and engaged. This, in turn, can delay and prevent some of the negative effects of ageing that many people currently experience.”

David Sinclair, Assistant Director, Policy and Communications at ILC-UK added:
“Public policy aimed at getting older people online has tended to focus how we can develop skills and ensure access to new technology. But far too often, we have overlooked the role played by behaviour and choice.

We have recently seen the use of behavioural economics to encourage a new generation to save for the first time. We must better explore how we can use these techniques to tackle the other challenges faced by an ageing society. ‘Nudge or Compel’ highlights that Behavoral economics can help us tackle digital exclusion. We know, for example, that the fear of something going wrong can act as a barrier to people getting online in the first place. We urge service providers to take away some of that fear, such as by guaranteeing that individuals should be able to return to a paper service if the online experience does not work for them.”

Amongst other recommendations, the report also calls on

  • Service providers to attract older customers by finding ways of discounted installation and connection deals, and initial periods of free internet access.
  • Companies advertising technology and opportunities to learn technology to use imagery of both older and younger people.
  • Government and the private sector to support local digital champions to make the case at a community level for the use of new technology.
  • Government and the private to invest more in adult learning, particularly if certain services are going to be made available exclusively online.
  • The technology sector to place more emphasis on co-design.


- ‘Nudge or Compel? Can behavioural economics tackle the digital exclusion of older people?’ will be available on the ILC-UK website on 29th November at 6am

- The concept of Nudge was developed by Thaler and Sunstein (2008)  and is based on the field of behavioural theory which suggests that individuals’ actions and decisions don’t result simply from a rational overview of external circumstances. Instead they are equally likely to be based on systems of habitual behaviour based on learned traits and biases.

Jessica Watson or David Sinclair at ILC-UK 020 7340 0440 or 07531 164 886

About ILC-UK

The International Longevity Centre-UK is the leading think tank on longevity and demographic change. It is an independent, non-partisan think-tank dedicated to addressing issues of longevity, ageing and population change. We develop ideas, undertake research and create a forum for debate.

About Nominet Trust

Nominet Trust is a UK registered charity, which believes in the power of digital technology to improve lives and communities.

The  Trust brings together, invests in and supports people committed to  using digital technology to create social and economic value.

Nominet  Trust has invested in hundreds of projects since its inception,  providing business support as well as financial investment, seeking to  connect projects to prospective partners who can help increase their  reach and impact.

Nominet  Trust was founded in 2008 by Nominet, the not-for-profit organisation  responsible for the smooth and secure running of the .uk internet  infrastructure. Nominet has a strong public purpose and the Trust is one  example of its commitment to creating a safer, accessible and diverse  internet.


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