Over the past couple of decades, more and more people have gained access to the internet. In 2017, 3.5 billion people were internet users, an increase of 250 percent from 2005. 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-five countries, less than 20 percent of the population uses the internet. To put that in perspective, 76 percent of people in the United States use the internet.

Even the speed of your internet connection depends on where you live. South Korea has the highest average connection speed, at 28.6 Mbps; Egypt has the lowest, at 2.0 Mbps. The United States falls on the higher end at 18.7 Mbps. The global average is 7.2 Mbps.

Internet Use in Developed and Developing Countries

But developing countries are catching up quickly: between 2010 and 2016, the number of internet users jumped 60 percent in China; in India, it increased 324 percent. And of the 830 million young people online, almost 40 percent of them live in just those two countries.

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 81 percent of those from households earning less than $30,000. And 97 percent of college graduates in the United States use the internet, compared to 65 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.

The major reasons for the gaps in internet usage in the United States are the following:

  • Digital literacy: About a third of the people who don’t use the internet in the United States think that the internet is too difficult to use. Around 8 percent of offline adults consider themselves “too old to learn.”
  • Cost: Nearly 20 percent do not use the internet because owning a computer and subscribing to an internet service are too expensive.
  • Lack of infrastructure: 7 percent said they don’t use the internet because of a physical lack of availability or access to the internet. Infrastructure issues particularly affect rural communities: less than two-thirds of adults in rural areas have broadband access at home.

At least one fact is constant across regions: young people are driving the internet’s growth.

Almost 830 million young people are online. Globally, 71 percent of people aged fifteen to twenty-four use the internet; by comparison, only 48 percent of the overall 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. In a recent global poll of young people’s internet use, most respondents between fifteen and nineteen years old said that what they liked the most about the internet is related to learning and education.

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 346 million young people (more than 29 percent of the world’s youth) are not connected to the internet.

The digital divide mirrors the economic one among countries and regions. Three out of five young people in Africa are not connected to the internet, compared to just one out of twenty-five 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 an important part of helping communities and countries succeed in an age in which 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.

Referenced Module