Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Older Chinese, the Internet, and Well-Being

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Older Chinese, the Internet, and Well-Being

Article excerpt

This study examines the impact of the Internet on the well-being of older Chinese. Thirty-three older Chinese, who were current or former students of a senior-oriented computer training organization based in Shanghai, China, were interviewed about their use and perceptions of the Internet. Data analysis was guided by grounded theory. The findings indicate that Internet learning and use in this peer group makes these older Chinese's lives after retirement more meaningful, and improves their self-evaluations as well as other people's views of them. These findings suggest that Internet learning and use is positively associated with the well-being of these older Chinese. This study also finds culturally specific factors-including mandatory retirement and recent economic reforms in China-that mediate older Chinese people's use and perceptions of the Internet. Finally, societal implications, limitations, and future research directions are discussed.

Keywords: aging; retirees; quality of life; information and communication technologies (ICTs)

As in many other countries around the world, the Chinese population is aging. According to the most recent Chinese national census, in November 2000, 6.96% of the Chinese population (88.11 million) were age 65 or older. It is projected that in 2030, 16.57% or 243 million Chinese will be age 65 or older (National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China, 2001). Also as in many other countries, the aging of the Chinese population is coincident with the dramatic growth of Internet use nationwide. The first Chinese national survey on Internet usage indicated that in October 1997, there were only 620,000 Internet users in China; but since then Internet use in China has been rising constantly and dramatically. By the end of June 2005, the number of Chinese Internet users had increased to 103 million (China Internet Network Information Center, 2005). In other words, during the period from October 1997 to June 2005, the population of Chinese Internet users became over 166 times larger.

At the intersection of the aging trend and the technology trend is the (quietly but) constantly growing body of older Chinese Internet users. Although the percentage of Chinese Internet users above age 50 has been consistently lower than 5% of the total Chinese Internet population, because the size of the total Internet population has increased so much, the total number of older Chinese Internet users has also increased significantly. In June 1998, there were only 14,400 Chinese Internet users aged 50 or above. Yet by the end of June 2005, more than 4 million older Chinese were using the Internet (China Internet Network Information Center, 2005). In other words, during this period of time the population of older Chinese Internet users became over 277 times larger.

Surprisingly, however, until now very little, if any, attention has been paid to older Chinese Internet users (and older Internet users in general) and the ways in which the Internet affects their lives. Compared with the vast amounts of research on computers and the Internet and research on aging, studies on the intersection of the Internet and aging trends are scarce and limited to a few subjects (Xie, 2003). This oversight is in part due to the trend among social gerontologists, who conventionally do not pay much attention to the influence of technology on aging and later life-and when they do, they primarily focus on medical or assistive technologies (that can be used by others for older adults), as if those were the only technologies that mattered to older adults. Another factor that contributes to this oversight is that researchers who study the societal implications of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) often ignore the older population, as if new technologies were the exclusive province of younger people. More systematic research is needed to generate a better understanding of the impact of computers and the Internet on the older population. …

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