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People use the computer at an Internet cafe in Taiyuan in the Shanxi province of China on March 31, 2010.

Over the past couple of decades, more and more people have gained access to the internet. In 2017, nearly 50 percent of the world’s population was internet users, up from just 20 percent in 2007. Much of this increase is concentrated in the developing world.

Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet

Use the slider to see the change in global internet use over time.

At the same time, the internet has gained more access to our lives.

Even though the internet seems like it’s everywhere, it’s not.

More people in developed countries enjoy internet access than people in developing ones. In thirty countries, less than 20 percent of the population uses the internet. To put that in perspective, 89 percent of the U.S. population uses the internet, and four countries have 100 percent internet access: Bahrain, Liechtenstein, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

In some countries, it can be hard to even turn on the lights, let alone log on to the internet. More than one in ten people around the globe lack access to electricity.

Internet Use in Developed and Developing Countries

But many countries are catching up quickly. For example, the percentage of people in China using the internet skyrocketed from 2 percent to 54 percent between 2000 and 2017; in India, usage went from just 0.5 percent to nearly one-third of the population over the same period.

Within developed countries with overall higher rates of internet usage, there is nonetheless an urban/rural divide and several demographic divides. For example, in the United States, 98 percent of adults from households earning $75,000 or more a year use the internet, compared to 82 percent of those from households earning less than $30,000. And 98 percent of college graduates in the United States use the internet, compared to 71 percent of those who did not graduate high school. Use the chart to explore the differences between, and within, groups.

Internet Use Over Time in the United States

Click on the buttons to explore the demographic divides.

According to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, more than one in five U.S. households don’t use the internet at home. Major reasons for this gap in internet usage include:

  • Disinterest: Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported the internet wasn’t necessary or interesting to them.
  • Cost: About one-fifth of households that didn’t use the internet at home pointed to the price tag as the problem.
  • Lack of infrastructure: 4 percent of the unconnected at home said they didn’t have a computer.

At least one fact is constant across regions: young people are driving internet use.

Globally, nearly 70 percent of people aged fifteen to twenty-four use the internet; by comparison, just over half of of the worldwide population does so.

Access to the internet gives young people opportunities to learn new information (by using educational tools such as World101), connect with friends and family, be civically engaged, and develop skills they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world. Getting online has only become more crucial in the COVID-19 era, with more than ninety countries conducting school online in 2020.

Poll: What Do You Like About the Internet?

Older generations often think of young people as digital natives, assuming that they have never known a world without the internet. However, just as a generational gap exists in internet usage, a digital divide also exists among the youth. About 2.2 billion young people (around two-thirds of the world’s youth) don’t have internet at home.

The digital divide mirrors the economic one among countries and regions. Only 5 percent of young people in Africa have access to the internet at home, compared to 59 percent of young people in Europe. This means millions of children—most of them in developing countries—are deprived of the opportunities that the internet provides.

Closing these gaps in internet access for young people, and for all demographic groups, is especially crucial today as the world battles the coronavirus crisis by going remote for work and school. The internet has transformed how we trade, make financial transactions, share ideas, and do so much more. In fact, the internet is so integral to economic development, and so central to every aspect of modern life, that bridging the digital divide has become an international priority: achieving universal, affordable access by 2030 is a target of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

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