Grandma Likes Her Cell Phone: Elderly Americans Adopt Wireless at a Rapid Rate

June 05, 2012

Research from Georgetown’s Center for Business and Public Policy Shows Elderly Are Not Vulnerable to Wireless Regulation 

Elderly Americans are adopting wireless technologies at a growing pace, according to research from the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business that has implications for the Federal Communications Commission and state agencies seeking to update communications regulations.

As the 20th-century regulatory structure based on traditional landline service as a monopoly is revised to account for wireless technology, this research by professors John Mayo and Jeffrey Macher addresses fears that new regulation will disenfranchise older Americans.  

By investigating the evolution of telephone demand among the U.S. population from 2003 to 2010, they found that while younger households have moved more quickly to embrace the wireless revolution, older households are rapidly transitioning to wireless services as well.

Their research shows that from 2003 to 2010, the number of elderly households with wireless subscription service jumped from 41 percent to nearly 80 percent. The percentage of these households abandoning their landlines for wireless services rose from 1 percent to 14.5 percent during that same timeframe. In contrast, the percentage relying exclusively on landline services fell from 58 percent to only 19 percent.

They also examined the households they deem most vulnerable to the changing regulatory landscape – older generations living in poverty – and found that about 22 percent have dropped their landline subscription entirely in favor of wireless.

“The data that we have examined provide considerable comfort that elderly households are not as vulnerable to advancing communications technologies as some may fear or have posited,” they write. “This demonstrated propensity to transition to wireless telephony means that elderly households, together with the massively mobile remainder of society, are powerful agents to ensure that telecommunications services remain competitively and affordably priced in the 21st century.”

Mayo is a professor of economics, business, and public policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and executive director of the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. Macher is associate professor of strategy and economics at Georgetown McDonough and director of the Center.

Read the full report at

About the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy
The Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy is an academic, non-partisan research center whose mission is to engage scholars, business people and policymakers in relevant inquiries and dialogue to impact key business, economic and public policy issues confronting American and international businesses today.  Housed at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, the Georgetown Center was created in 2002 to encourage thoughtful discussion and to document and disseminate knowledge on a range of issues in the public interest. Learn more at

About Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business is a premier business school located at the center of world politics and business in Washington, D.C. Some 1,400 undergraduates, 1,000 MBA students, and 1,200 participants in executive education programs study business with an intensive focus on leadership and a global perspective. Founded in 1957, the business school today resides in the new Rafik B. Hariri Building, a state-of-the-art facility that blends the tradition of Georgetown University with forward-thinking functionality. For more information about Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, visit