How Much Is Quality of Life Worth?

With the worldwide growth of the older adult population, there have been numerous efforts to design and provide what have become known as quality of life technologies, which are designed to optimize the health and independent functioning of individuals with disabilities. However, questions remain surrounding how much consumers may be willing to pay for such technologies. To examine this, a nationally representative survey was conducted to examine the attitudes of baby boomers (age 45 to 64) and older adults (65+) toward kitchen and personal-care assistance technology.

This study improves upon prior research on the willingness to pay for technology by employing a nationally representative sample of 530 adults, and by focusing on the demographic factors that might affect willingness to pay. For questions related to kitchen technology, participants were asked to assume that they had need for help in “kitchen activities” and that technology was available to help with “things like meal preparation and washing dishes.”

For questions related to personal-care technology, survey participants were asked to assume that they had need for help in “personal care” and that technology was available to help with “things like getting in and out of bed, dressing and toileting,” The participants were then asked about a variety of levels of assistance that the technology could provide, from low (monitoring and reporting) to high (doing part of the task for you), followed by questions about how much they were willing to pay each month out of pocket for such assistance.

The researchers found that 28 percent of those interviewed were unwilling to pay anything monthly out of pocket for kitchen technologies, and that 28 percent were unwilling to pay out of pocket for personal assistance. They also found that for both kitchen and personal assistance, the participants overall estimated only about a one-in-three chance that they would need such technologies. Both those with higher incomes and those with disabilities showed a greater willingness to pay something. Interestingly, general attitudes toward technology did not influence willingness to pay. Perceived future need for such technologies was associated with a willingness to pay out of pocket. The researchers also found that Hispanics were more likely to be willing to pay than Caucasians. Those who were more concerned with privacy were less likely to be willing to pay.

Among those willing to pay, the average monthly amount that they were willing to pay for kitchen technology assistance was $40.34. However, the large difference between the average and median amounts that individuals named indicated considerable variation in the amount that individuals were willing to pay. For personal care technology, the average amount was $44.96. When looking at demographic factors impacting the amount that individuals were willing to pay, the study found that African Americans were willing to pay more than Caucasians. A perceived need for future assistance was also associated with a willingness to pay more for such technologies.

The researchers were surprised to find that the older adults who they studied were not more averse to technology; it was also unexpected that a more positive attitude toward technology was not associated with a willingness to spend more.

The researchers suggested some reasons for the fact that many adults are willing to pay more per month for cell phone, cable TV, or Internet than the amounts that they report being willing to pay for quality of life technologies. The authors point to the importance of perceived future need for such technologies being associated with willingness to pay. They write that this “suggests that attitudes about willingness to pay might change as awareness of an impending disability increases.” Though not a large enough number to examine statistically, they noted that 100 percent of all participants with at least one impairment in activities of daily living were willing to pay something for the technology.

In light of the cost of some assistive technologies, the researchers note that it is likely that many may be priced beyond what individuals are willing to pay. It also seems that greater education on the need for such technologies with age could lead to more widespread willingness to accept the costs associated with this sort of technology. The study also notes that these findings suggest that a potentially more effective strategy for encouraging technology adoption is to demonstrate through a cost-benefit analysis that adoption of quality of life technologies is more effective than alternatives such as in-home, human-based assistance or long-term care placement.

Source

Shulz R, Beach SR, Matthews, JT, et al. Willingness to pay for quality of life technologies to enhance independent functioning among baby boomers and the elderly adults. The Gerontologist. (2014). DOI:10.1093/geront/gnt016

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