NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When the iPad first came out last year, it started life the same way as its spiritual predecessor, the iPhone: A kind of electronic status symbol, a gadget carried primarily by in-the-know, 20-something urbanites.

Now, just as the iPhone and other smartphones have been adopted by the larger population, so too have the ownership demographics shifted for the iPad and other tablets.

According to a new survey from Nielsen, a solid 37% of tablet owners were over the age of 45 as of the second quarter of 2011. By contrast, as recently as the third quarter of 2010, just 23% of tablet owners fell into that age group.

In the space of nine months, tablets went from a market dominated by 18- to 34-year-olds (accounting for nearly half of all tablet owners at the time) to one more heavily skewed toward middle-aged and older Americans. The market share claimed by the over-55 set has nearly doubled in that period.

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The tablet market also became less male-dominated over the same time period. In 2010 just 39% of tablet owners were female; by the middle of 2011 we were approaching parity, at 43%. An even more pronounced trend becomes apparent when looking at e-readers: in 2010 just 47% of e-reader owners were women, a proportion that has skyrocketed to 61% this year.

All of this is to say that when it comes to innovative new technologies, the early adopters tend to be younger and largely male. As the technology becomes more widely adopted, the gender gaps tend to fade away and older consumers – who are likely to have more disposable income to spend on gadgets – catch up to the 20-somethings who had the iPad before it went mainstream.

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