Mobile phone use before and during the COVID-19 pandemic – a panel study of older adults in seven countries

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to investigate the changes in older adults’ mobile phone use from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic. The media displacement and digital divide approaches served as the theoretical frameworks of the study. The data were drawn from the 2018 and 2020 waves of the Aging + Communication + Technology cross-national longitudinal panel study. The sample consisted of older Internet users, aged 62 to 96 (in 2018), from Austria, Canada, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, Romania, and Spain, who participated in both waves (N = 4,398). Latent class analysis and latent transition analysis with multinomial regression models were the main methods applied to the data. With regard to the findings, three mobile phone function use profiles—Narrow Use, Medium Use, and Broad Use—were identified from the data. Lower age, being married, higher income, and place of residence (in 2018) predicted belonging to the three profiles, while country differences in the prevalence of the profiles were substantial. Between 2018 and 2020, transition from one profile to another was relatively rare but typically toward the “Broad Use” category. Profile transitions were most common in Romania, while stability was highest in Finland, Israel, and Canada. In addition, gender, age, marital status, and place of residence predicted the likelihood of changing from one profile to another between 2018 and 2020. The results suggest that older adults’ mobile phone function use is relatively stable over a two-year time span. While new mobile phone functions are adopted, they seem to augment the spectrum of mobile usage rather than displace older similar functionalities. In addition, demographic, socioeconomic, and country-level digital divides, although slightly modified over time, remain significant among older adults.

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Taipale, S., Oinas, T., Ivan, L., & Rosenberg, D. (2024). Mobile phone use before and during the COVID-19 pandemic – a panel study of older adults in seven countries. Mobile Media and Communication, 12(1), 23–44. https://doi.org/10.1177/20501579231185479

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