Social Media use by the Elderly: Friend or foe


  • Val Hooper Victoria University of Wellington



elderly, social media use by the elderly, self-determination theory, social exchange theory, privacy calculus


Worldwide, populations are aging, especially in the developed world. In parallel with this increase in the elderly population groups, there has been an increase in the use of social media. However, few studies have explored the use of social media for social engagement by the elderly and the motivations behind such use. The generally accepted age threshold of being elderly is 65 years. Often this coincides with retirement age as well as social pension age. Although this is not always the situation, often the elderly age state is accompanied by changes in economic and social situations. Often transitioning to being elderly presents challenges for those experiencing it, and the question arises as to the extent to which the use of social media can facilitate or hinder that transition. Using a social exchange theoretical lens, as well as that of self-determination theory and privacy calculus, this research was exploratory and qualitative. In-depth personal interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 20 Eurocentric English-speaking respondents who were over 65 years of age. Some were retired, some were partially employed, some had their own businesses, and some were employed full-time. The gender split was 50:50. The purpose was to explore the use of social media by the elderly and the motivation behind it. In addition, observation of the social media use of the respondents lent further insights into the interpretation of the results. The overwhelming use of social media by the elderly was for social engagement, and the general tenor of posts and responses was one of great positivity. That positive approach was largely driven by self-interest and the implicit understanding that if one posted positive messages or responded positively, there would be a resultant feeling of goodwill and wellbeing in the recipient, and that those well-meant messages would be reciprocated, leading to a feeling of wellbeing in oneself. Although elements of competition, providing purpose to one’s life, and honouring privacy concerns of others were additional motivators, the main motivation was for happy social engagement and feelings of personal wellbeing.

Author Biography

Val Hooper, Victoria University of Wellington

Val Hooper is currently the Head of the School of Marketing and International Business of Victoria University of Wellington. Prior to that, she was the Head of the School of Information Management. Her research interests include social media, cyberbullying, online security behaviour, and the dark side of IS.