Background: The digital age divide remains persistent despite the recent increase in internet use among older adults. Additionally, older rural residents are at greater risk of being digitally disconnected.
Objective: Guided by the social determinants of health framework, our study aims to examine how one’s residential area relates to (1) internet use, (2) subtypes of usage patterns, and (3) attitudes toward technology use in later life.
Method: Cross-sectional data were drawn from the 2012 Health and Retirement Study. The analytic sample consisted of 1,566 older adults aged 50 and above. Chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses were performed.
Results: Internet access rates were significantly lower in rural residents (54%) compared to the urban (66%) or the suburban group (61%). Compared to urban residents, those residing in suburban areas were less likely to use health technology while those living in rural areas had lower odds of communication, financial, and media technology use. Furthermore, the association between urban-rural residence and attitudes toward technology was compared among non-users (N = 633). Older adults in rural areas showed more unfavorable perceptions of technology than urban residents. They were less likely to conceive technology as “easily available,” but more likely to perceive it as “too complicated” and “too hard to learn.” No significant differences were found between rural and suburban residents.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that older adults in rural areas, notably lag in using and adopting digital technology. Comprehensive intervention efforts are needed to narrow the digital divide for rural communities.