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Digital Natives: Where in the World are Young People Using the Internet?

A common myth says that today’s young people are all glued to the Internet. As a matter of fact, only about 30% of the world’s youth population between 15 and 24 years old has been active online for at least five years. In South Korea, for example, 99.6% of young people are active, which is the highest percentage all over the world. How about the least? The Asian island of Timor Leste (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) with less than 1%.

These are among the many findings from a study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology and International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This study is the very first one that attempts to measure the world’s “digital natives” by country. The term, “digital native”, is typically used to categorize young generations born around the time the personal computer was introduced and have spent their lives connected with technology. Digital natives live in an era that they are surrounded by computers, video games, digital music players, video cameras, cell phones and all the other kinds of digital technologies and they communicate and interact with people using these technologies all the time.


(Click to see enlarged figure) The above figure has four columns, namely the total number of digital natives in a country; the percentage of digital natives to total population; the percentage of digital natives to total number of youth in a country; and share of youth population in a country.  The data are all from the year of 2012. Image source: ITU

The results show that nearly 96% of American millennials are digital natives and this figure is behind Japan (99.5%) and some European countries such as Finland, Netherlands and Denmark.

However, Georgia Tech Associate Professor Michael Best believes that the most important figure is the percentage of the number of digital natives as compared to the total population of a country. “A country’s future will be defined by today’s young generation and by technology,” said Best, who developed the model that calculated the worldwide figures jointly with ITU. “Countries that have a high proportion of young people who are already online are positioned to define and lead tomorrow’s digital age.”

The countries that have highest proportion of digital natives as compared to their total population are mostly rich countries, which have high levels of overall Internet penetration. Iceland is listing on the top with 13.9%. The figure for the United States is 13.1%.  Surprisingly, Malaysia, a middle-income country, has one of the highest proportions of digital natives (ranked 4th at 13.4%). This is mainly because Malaysia has a very strong history of investing in educational technology.

Countries with the smallest proportion of digital natives are Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Myanmar. The bottom 10 countries are all African or Asian nations, some of which are suffering from conflict and/or in low Internet availability.


In the above figure, the numbers indicate the percentage of the number of digital natives as compared to total population of a country. (2012) *Image source: ITU.

The report also notes that Internet usage has dramatically increased in developing countries during the last five years. The ITU is confident that the digital native population in these areas will more than double by the year of 2017.

In general, there are around 363 million digital natives out of the world population of nearly 7 billion (5.2%).

  “Young people are using the power of information and communication technologies to transform our world,” said Hamadoun Toure, ITU secretary-general. “The Youth Declaration developed at ITU’s BYND2015 Youth Summit in Costa Rica and presented to the UN General Assembly last week by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla calls for setting more measurable targets to monitor the digital empowerment of youth at national, regional and international levels. The study is the first attempt to measure the number of digital natives all over the world and it is a valuable first contribution to this effort.”

Source​Georgia Tech