The internet makes people happier: New research

 
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Using the internet makes people happier, especially seniors and those with health problems that limit their ability to fully take part in social life, says a study in Computers in Human Behavior.

The issue: A generation after the internet began appearing widely in homes and offices, it is not unusual to hear people ask if near-constant access to the web has made us happier. Research on the association between internet use and happiness have been ambiguous. Some have found that the connectivity empowers people. A 2014  study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior notes that excessive time spent online can leave people socially isolated. Compulsive online behavior can have a negative impact on mental health.

A new paper examines if quality of life in the golden years is impacted by the ubiquitous internet.

An academic study worth reading: “Life Satisfaction in the Internet Age – Changes in the Past Decade,” published in Computers in Human Behavior, 2016.

Study summary: Sabina Lissitsa and Svetlana Chachashvili-Bolotin, two researchers in Israel, investigate how internet adoption impacts life satisfaction among Israelis over age 65, compared with working-age adults (aged 20-64). They use annual, repeated cross-sectional survey data collected by Israel’s statistics agency from 2003 to 2012 – totaling 75,523 respondents.

They define life satisfaction broadly — on perceptions of one’s health, job, education, empowerment, relationships and place in society — and asked respondents to rate their satisfaction on a four-point scale. They also measured specific types of internet use, for example email, social media and shopping.

Finally, Lissitsa and Chachashvili-Bolotin also analyzed demographic data, information on respondents’ health, the amount they interact with friends and how often, if at all, they feel lonely.

Findings:

  • Internet users report higher levels of life satisfaction than non-users. This finding:
    • Is higher among people with health problems.
    • Decreases over time (possibly because internet saturation is spreading, making it harder to compare those with and those without internet access).
    • Decreases as incomes rise.
  • Internet access among seniors rose from 8 to 34 percent between 2003 and 2012; among the younger group, access increased from 44 to 78 percent. Therefore, the digital divide grew during the study period.
  • Seniors who use the internet report higher levels of life satisfaction than seniors who do not.
  • “Internet adoption promotes life satisfaction in weaker social groups and can serve as a channel for increasing life satisfaction.”
  • Using email and shopping online are associated with an increase in life satisfaction.
  • Using social media and playing games have no association with life satisfaction. The authors speculate that this is because some people grow addicted and abuse these internet applications.
  • The ability to use the internet to seek information has an insignificant impact on happiness for the total sample. But it has a positive association for users with health problems — possibly because the internet increases their ability to interact with others.
  • The findings can be broadly generalized to other developed countries.

Helpful resources:

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) publishes key data on the global internet economy.

The United Nations publishes the ICT Development Index to compare countries’ adoption of internet and communications technologies.

The Digital Economy and Society Index measures European Union members’ progress toward closing the digital divides in their societies.

Other research:

A 2015 article by the same authors examines rates of internet adoption by senior citizens.

A 2014 study looks at how compulsive online behavior is negatively associated with life satisfaction. Similarly, this 2014 article specifically focuses on the compulsive use of Facebook.

A 2014 study tests the association between happiness and online connections.

Journalist’s Resource has examined the cost of aging populations on national budgets around the world.

 

Keywords: Internet, happiness, social media, aging, elderly

 

Last updated: November 17, 2016

 

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Citation: Lissitsa, Sabina; Chachashvili-Bolotin, Svetlana. “Life Satisfaction in the Internet Age – Changes in the Past Decade,” Computers in Human Behavior, 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.08.001.