95% of Boomers don’t listen to podcasts, despite growth in digital audio consumption

Edison Research and NPR highlight older listeners as potential growth segment

More than 95% of US adults aged 55 and above do not listen to podcasts, according to a recent report by Edison Research and NPR, despite an increasing number changing their listening habits and engaging with online audio. 

The report, titled Hit Play, Boomer!, is derived from Edison Research’s Share of Ear dataset consisting of a quarterly survey of over 4,000 US residents that keep a daily diary of their audio usage. This segment focuses on respondents aged 55+ in Q1 of 2023 (also known as ‘Boomers’ in reference to the post-World War Two ‘baby boom’) and includes half that are podcast listeners and half that are not. 

The number of Boomers that use online audio (53%) has been gradually increasing since 2018, at which point only 33% of Boomers consumed online audio. However, podcasting still remains unpopular, with only 4% of the Boomers’ share of time listening to audio sources being spent on podcasts. The report also found that while 78% of Boomers own a smartphone, only 15% of them are actually listening to podcasts on a mobile device - 28% less than younger respondents. 

“Our current estimate is that 120 million Americans age 12 and older are listening to podcasts on a monthly basis,” said Edison Research president Larry Rosin. “If Boomers’ levels of listening to podcasts matched that of younger groups, even just 35-54 year olds, that would mean these numbers would go to over 150 million monthly listeners. Boomers have the tools to listen and the interest, now the podcast industry just needs to finish the education process.”

According to the report, just telling audiences in this demographic that a radio show is also available as a podcast is not enough to convert them into podcast listeners, and podcasters and publishers need to do more to educate Boomers on what podcasts are, how to listen to them, and why they might want to.

Reaching Boomer audiences is also different to younger generations; for example, Facebook is the most commonly used platform for almost three-quarters of Boomers, as opposed to 35% of younger respondents, while other social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are used by less than 10%. 

Boomer audiences have unique tastes in terms of podcast genres as well, with 69% of listeners aged 55+ preferring News podcasts compared to Comedy, which is the most popular podcast genre amongst listeners aged 13-54. While shows like The Joe Rogan Experience and The Daily also continue to be popular with listeners aged 55+, the highest indexed shows include podcasts with celebrity presenters such as The Al Franken Podcast and The Rachel Maddow Show. 

The report concluded that while podcast consumption amongst Boomer listeners remains relatively low compared to other age groups, the increased use of online audio shows a potential growth in podcast listening if they continue to have the right tools and proper education. This age group, according to Edison, can also be attractive to advertisers as it proved to have a history of much higher engagement with direct response advertising and direct appeals for funding. 

“NPR is pleased to have sponsored this investigation into podcasting among those age 55 and older,” said NPR audience insights director Susan Leland. “Our mission is to serve Americans of all ages with the finest quality audio news, information, and entertainment. Understanding where this group is today will allow us and the whole podcasting industry to open new pathways for growth among this largely untapped age group.”