When sites like Facebook and MySpace burst onto the scene, they were generally considered the playground of the young. No more.
Young people continue to flock to social sites, but not at nearly the rate of older adults, according to study released today by the Pew Internet Project.
From April 2009 to May of this year, the portion U.S. Internet users between the ages of 50 and 64 who accessed social media technology surged from 25 percent to 47 percent, an 88 percent increase, according to Pew. Fully one in five said they use social sites on a typical day.
Among online adults 65 and older, the rate of social-media usage jumped from 13 percent to 26 percent during the same period, a 100 percent increase.
"Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users," Mary Madden, the author of the report, said in a statement.
"Email is still the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, but many older users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications," Madden added.
Pew found that 86 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 said they use at least one social-media site, an increase of 13 percent.
The researchers also found that older Americans are increasingly drawn to Twitter, though it remains a sidelight to more fleshed-out communities such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
Pew's survey broke out Twitter and other status-updating services in a separate category from social networking sites. The researchers found that 11 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 have signed up for Twitter or a similar site, a more than 100 percent increase from a year ago. On a typical day, adults in that same age range said Twitter is a part of their Internet routine, up from just 1 percent last April.
Pew found a modest correlation with older adults' use of social media technology and the uptake of broadband. In recent reports on broadband in America, the organization has identified older adults and senior citizens as a demographic group with a particularly low rate of adoption, but it has noted that those who do sign up for a high-speed connection tend to become heavier Internet users, a trend echoed in today's results.
The report also suggested some factors unique to older populations that could make online communities attractive, such as the allure of connecting with past acquaintances as retirement approaches, and the support system social sites can offer for people living with chronic diseases.