Older adults who socialize daily online may have greater life satisfaction than those who use the internet weekly or never, according to the results of a six-year study.

Among 9,000 people over the age of 50, daily internet use had a positive long-term effect, whereas infrequent use (monthly or less) was tied to deteriorating life satisfaction, reported Professor Stephen Jivraj of University College London. Notably, nearly a quarter of the study participants had never used the internet, although 56% reported going online every day.

Mental well-being also was affected by type of internet use. Participants who socialized online (via email) were less likely to report depression and to experience poor life satisfaction than those who did not. Meanwhile, participants who used the internet mainly for information access (specifically job searches) had worse life satisfaction compared with those who did not, even when their working status was considered.

The study revealed socioeconomic disparities as well. About 30% of daily users were from the most affluent cohort, whereas those from the least affluent group accounted for 9% of daily users. Differences in depression and life satisfaction scores were more pronounced over time for those with relatively high educational attainment. 

To help close these gaps, the authors recommend encouraging older people to use the internet for building and maintaining social ties. 

Full findings were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.