More frequent internet use has been linked to increases in wellbeing in older adults, particularly those who are wealthy and more educated, finds a new UCL study.
Published today in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, it is the first study of its kind to examine the links between different internet usage and the associated impacts on mental health, and reveals that those from higher socioeconomic groups are reaping benefits to mental wellbeing not experienced by others.
The study explores accounts of more than 9,000 people over the age of 50, over a period of six years (2012—2017). Researchers found a positive long-term effect of using the internet daily, with infrequent use (monthly or less) associated with deteriorating levels of life satisfaction among older people.
Measured from 5 (lowest satisfaction) to 35 (highest satisfaction), respondents who used the internet daily reported average life satisfaction scores of 26.12, compared to 24.44 for those who used the internet monthly or less. Those who used the internet daily also had a lower average depression score of 1.02, compared to 1.76 for those who had never used the internet, measured on a scale from 0 to 8 (where 0 represents no depressive symptoms).
Over the period of the study, daily users saw larger increases in their life satisfaction scores than those who used the internet weekly or never, and had the highest scores overall by the end of the study.
However, the impact on mental wellbeing was found to vary by internet use type, the most common of which are ‘information access’ and ‘communication’, with 68% and 66% of participants reporting use of these two types, respectively. People who used the internet for ‘communication’ and keeping in touch with others, specifically for sending emails, were more likely to report lower levels of depression, as well as better life satisfaction than those who did not. Yet those who used the internet for ‘information access’, specifically searching for jobs, had worse life satisfaction compared to those who did not, even when working status was taken into consideration.
The research team found that those in the wealthiest quantile were most likely to use the internet daily; 31% of daily users were from the most affluent group, while those from the least affluent group accounted for 9% of daily users. Those in the highest educational and occupational groups experienced a larger positive impact of frequent use on mental health than those in the lowest groups. The differences in depression and life satisfaction scores were steeper over time for those with a degree compared to those without, highlighting the greater potential for those with higher educational backgrounds to improve their mental wellbeing through…