Digitial Inclusion | Internet Adoption

Introduction


Building on data and reports from a selection of sources, this page presents the main findings on the current state of internet adoption. The data presentation focuses on world-wide, regional and country-level trends. Where data was available, the presentation also includes within-country information on the differences in internet adoption between various demographics.

Main findings

  • While the internet connects the world, it does not do so evenly: there are still many countries where internet penetration is below 50%. These countries are predominantly in Africa and South Asia and fall in UNDP's medium or low human development categories. Ubiquitous access to the internet is thus still mostly a luxury bestowed on the developed world.

  • By absolute numbers, the internet population is predominantly Asian: over 720 million Chinese and 460 million Indians are currently online. That also means 660 million Chinese and 860 million Indians are currently still offline.

  • The overall growth rate of internet users was 4.31% this year. In comparison, India's growth rate of internet users was 30.50%. That means over a 100 million new users from India this year alone. No other country's population is joining the digital world that fast, with such numbers.


Worldwide Internet Use

Timeline of worldwide internet users - absolute numbers 

Page Title
Internet Users
Date
12/1/199516,000,00012/1/1995
12/1/199636,000,00012/1/1996
12/1/199770,000,00012/1/1997
12/1/1998147,000,00012/1/1998
12/1/1999248,000,00012/1/1999
3/1/2000304,000,0003/1/2000
7/1/2000359,000,0007/1/2000
12/1/2000361,000,00012/1/2000
3/1/2001458,000,0003/1/2001
6/1/2001479,000,0006/1/2001
8/1/2001513,000,0008/1/2001
4/1/2002558,000,0004/1/2002
7/1/2002569,000,0007/1/2002
9/1/2002587,000,0009/1/2002
3/1/2003608,000,0003/1/2003
9/1/2003677,000,0009/1/2003
10/1/2003682,000,00010/1/2003
12/1/2003719,000,00012/1/2003
2/1/2004745,000,0002/1/2004
5/1/2004757,000,0005/1/2004
10/1/2004812,000,00010/1/2004
12/1/2004817,000,00012/1/2004
3/1/2005888,000,0003/1/2005
6/1/2005938,000,0006/1/2005
9/1/2005957,000,0009/1/2005
11/1/2005972,000,00011/1/2005
12/1/20051,018,000,00012/1/2005
3/1/20061,023,000,0003/1/2006
6/1/20061,043,000,0006/1/2006
9/1/20061,086,000,0009/1/2006
12/1/20061,093,000,00012/1/2006
3/1/20071,129,000,0003/1/2007
6/1/20071,173,000,0006/1/2007
9/1/20071,245,000,0009/1/2007
12/1/20071,319,000,00012/1/2007
3/1/20081,407,000,0003/1/2008
6/1/20081,463,000,0006/1/2008
9/1/20081,504,000,0009/1/2008
12/1/20081,574,000,00012/1/2008
3/1/20091,596,000,0003/1/2009
6/1/20091,669,000,0006/1/2009
9/1/20091,734,000,0009/1/2009
12/1/20091,802,000,00012/1/2009
6/1/20101,966,000,0006/1/2010
9/1/20101,971,000,0009/1/2010
3/1/20112,095,000,0003/1/2011
6/1/20112,110,000,0006/1/2011
9/1/20112,180,000,0009/1/2011
12/1/20112,267,000,00012/1/2011
3/1/20122,336,000,0003/1/2012
6/1/20122,405,000,0006/1/2012
9/1/20122,439,000,0009/1/2012
12/1/20122,497,000,00012/1/2012
12/1/20132,802,000,00012/1/2013
6/1/20143,035,000,0006/1/2014
12/1/20143,079,000,00012/1/2014
6/1/20153,270,000,0006/1/2015
12/1/20153,366,000,00012/1/2015


Timeline of worldwide internet users - percentage population


The world's online population


  • Today's internet is populated by over 3.3 billion citizens, or 46.4% of the world population. This is over 200 times larger since the more humble 1995 population of 16 million, which then accounted for only 0.4% of the world population. On the other hand, this means the majority of people, some 3.9 billion in total, still lack internet access.

  • The increase of worldwide internet users has been steadfast and lineair. The growth of the early days saw the number of users double year over year. This rate has settled around an annual 10% increase in the last decade, which means that some 200 to 300 million new people go online every year.

Growth rate of worldwide internet users


Additional worldwide internet users


Internet Use by Continent

Internet Users per Continent


Internet Penetration per Continent


Country-level Internet Use

The Digitally Included


  • While the internet connects the world, it does not do so evenly: there are still many countries where internet penetration is below 50%. These countries are predominantly in Africa and South Asia and fall in UNDP's medium or low human development categories. Ubiquitous access to the internet is thus still mostly a luxury bestowed on the developed world.

  • By absolute numbers, the internet population is predominantly Asian: over 720 million Chinese and 460 million Indians are currently online. That also means 660 million Chinese and 860 million Indians are currently still offline.

  • The overall growth rate of internet users was 4.31% this year. In comparison, India's growth rate of internet users was 30.50%. That means over a 100 million new users from India this year alone. No other country's population is joining the digital world that fast, with such numbers.

Top 10 countries by internet penetration


Internet penetration (% 2016) per country

Countries grouped by UNDP Human Development Index.

Internet users (2016) and Internet penetration (% 2016) sorted by Human Development Index

Countries sorted left to right on their respective Human Development Index.

Percentage change in internet users per country (2015-2016)


New internet users in 2016 per country


Distribution of the digitally included


Distribution of the digitally excluded


Internet use correlated

Gross National Income per capita (PPP) and Internet penetration (% 2016)


GINI Index and Internet penetration (% 2016)


Human Development Index (2015) and Internet penetration (% 2016) 



  • The level of internet penetration correlates strongly with a country's per capita national income (0.74) and even stronger with a country's Human Development Index (0.90). Causation aside, this points to the fact that countries with higher (economic) development tend to have higher internet penetration. 

  • There is also a slight negative correlation between internet penetration and a country's GINI index (-0.37).  The GINI index measures the level of economic inequality within a country on a scale between 0 and 1, where 0 is perfect equality and 1 is perfect inequality. Although the correlation is not that strong, countries with lower economic inequality tend to have higher internet penetration.

Variety in online communities

Youth's share of online population


Percentage men using Internet and Percentage women using Internet

Sorted left to right by highest difference between men and women's internet penetration.

Fixed Internet subscription rate (2013)


Mobile broadband subscription rate (2013)


Deep Dive: United States

Internet use per demographic


Description of the available data: Using Pew Research Center survey data, the data on internet adoption in the United States contain information on the following:

  • Internet penetration in 2015 per gender; age group; income group; race; and education level

  • Growth rate over 5-year periods between 2000 and 2015 of internet penetration for each of the above-mentioned demographics

US: Internet Use per Demographic (Part 1)


The Internet Divide


The US is one of the countries with detailed data on access to internet per population demographic.

  • The internet is still predominantly for the young, affluent and educated. It is also mostly a (sub)urban space.

  • Comparing demographics by race shows Hispanic and in particular black communities lagging behind white and Asian communities in internet use.

US: Internet Use per Demographic (Part 2)


Growth Rate Internet Use - Age Groups


Growth Rate Internet Use - Income Groups


Growth Rate Internet Use - Gender


Growth rates in internet use


  • Senior citizens may be the least connected age group, they are making up ground since the start of this century: internet use among 65+ year olds tripled between 2000 and 2015. 

  • A common trend in the growth rates of all demographic segments is the slowing down after a relative boost between 2000 and 2005. Notable exception are the least educated Americans: their growth rate in internet use during the last 5 years has been almost as high as in the 2000-2005 period.

Growth Rate Internet Use - Education Groups


Growth Rate Internet Use


Deep Dive: European Union

Internet use per demographic


Description of the available data: Using Eurostat survey data, the data on internet adoption in the countries of the European Union contain information on the following:

  •  Percentage of young EU citizens using the internet for 1) civic activities; 2) economic activities; 3) social activities; 4) information gathering; 5) programming

  • Percentage of the whole EU population using the internet for the above-mentioned activities


The European Digital Age Gap


  • Young EU citizens (16-29) outperform the EU population as a whole in internet use by 22%. The young also the internet more wholeheartedly for a variety of activities.

  • Biggest differences between the young and the EU population as a whole is in the use of online social networks: the gap there is 36%. Similarly, the gap for playing or downloading games, movies, music is 29%.

  • But the young also use the internet more enthusiastically to gather information and add content to the internet: consulting wiki's and uploading self-created content for the young is 21% higher than for the population as a whole. 

  • For civic and economic activities the differences are not so outspoken, but the young still outperform the population as a whole for things like selling goods online and interacting with public agencies.

Difference (%) between young EU citizens and the population as a whole for selected types of internet use


EU: How the young use internet


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