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Digging Into Our Digital Generation Gap

Does a person’s relationship with technology—and how they use that technology to access government services—depend on their age? Yes and no. People who grew up holding smartphones may be more comfortable texting and tweeting to governments, but they’re not the only ones who want digital options. In our recent Citizen Experience survey of more than 2,000 citizens across the U.S., there were notable differences between older and younger respondents, but the gap might not be as wide as you’d expect.

The Center for Digital Government conducted this survey on behalf of Conduent to better understand how citizens view government services, especially those offered online. The survey focused on constituent interactions and individual experiences in working with digital government services. Findings are summarized in the report “Innovation, Ease of Use and Trust: Improving the citizen experience with digital government services.”

Here are a few key findings that highlight the generation gap that exists between those respondents over 55 years old, and their younger counterparts, aged 18-34.

  • Since younger respondents grew up using smartphones and digital services, it’s not surprising that mobile access to online government services is overwhelmingly preferred by 85 percent of those under 35. Only about half of those over 65, meanwhile, or 54 percent, said they prefer mobile access to online government services.
  • Separately, older respondents appeared somewhat less enthused about accessing and using digital services online or via smartphones and other devices. When asked whether they had accessed any government services using a mobile phone or tablet in the last year, only 26 percent of those aged 55 or older said they had. Meanwhile, roughly half, or 53 percent of respondents under age 35, said they had.
  • When describing the barriers faced in using online services, 24% of respondents over 65 said they don’t face barriers because they don’t use online services.  Only 10% of those aged 18-34 mentioned that they don’t use online services. Among younger respondents, the biggest barrier to online services, cited by 26 percent of 18-34 year olds, occurs when websites are down or otherwise not working. By comparison, this barrier was mentioned by only 12 percent of those over 65.
  • Looking ahead, in terms of government services they will most likely access through a mobile phone or tablet in the next year, 46 percent of those over 65 said, “none of the above,” which was cited by only 15 percent of those aged 18-34.

As stated in the original report, younger respondents expressed greater interest in emerging technologies such as smart devices and voice activated services. But across all age groups more respondents (39%) were interested in such advances than were uninterested (33%).

This offers important implications for long-term planning, as younger citizens grow into voting, tax-paying constituents. State governments must adapt to accommodate their evolving technological preferences. At the same time, state governments and other organizations cannot afford to lose focus on older citizens’ preferences as well. Industry research indicates this population is increasingly device- and internet-savvy. In a separate Pew Research Center survey, smartphone adoption among seniors (adults aged 65 and older) has quadrupled in the last five years, with 42 percent of seniors owning smartphones. Sixty-seven percent use the internet, and more than 50 percent have broadband at home.

To read the complete results of the Citizen Experience survey, please click here to download the report or explore related materials.