February 21, 2006

Truly a World Wide Web

Globe Going Digital

Summary of Findings

As the pace of modernization accelerates around the globe, so too has computer usage and access to the internet. The latest Pew Global Attitudes poll found substantially more people using a computer and going online now than in 2002. And it is not just the young who are increasing their use of technology; in many countries computer use has accelerated most rapidly among people over 50.

In each of the 13 countries for which historical comparisons can be made, more people now use computers at home, school or work than in 2002. The rise is dramatic in Turkey, Russia, India and Poland, where the number of those who say they use a computer at least occasionally has risen by 13 percent to 16 percent in the three years between surveys.

Great Britain has seen the largest increase in computer use, up 17 percent since 2002. More modest gains have been made in the U.S. and the rest of Western Europe, where majorities already reported using computers in 2002 although even in these countries the use of such technology has increased significantly.

Among those nations surveyed in 2005, the Netherlands leads in computer usage with fully 84% now saying they use a computer either at home or in the workplace. Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) Canadians find themselves sitting in front of the computer screen at least occasionally, while just over three quarters of Americans (76%) do likewise. Britain, once lagging behind America and Canada, has seen a 17 point increase in computer users from 59% in 2002 to 76% today.

Women have accounted for much of Britain’s increase in computer users. In 2002 just over half (55%) of British women utilized computer technology, now three quarters say they do, only two percentage points fewer than men.

Still, men use computers more than women in 14 of 16 countries surveyed; only in Canada and Lebanon do the genders share the same amount of computer activity. Pakistan has the lowest number of computer users with only 14% of men and 4% of women reporting they use a computer even occasionally. And despite India’s thriving computer-related industries, only 28% of men and 14% of women employ computers either at home or at work. The largest disparity between men and women computer users is found in Morocco where over half (58%) of men use them, but only 36% of women share in this activity.

The Internet Divide

Internet use is also on the rise in both industrialized societies and developing countries, with the greatest increases among the British, Poles and French. However, there is a stark divide between those countries with high rates of internet use and those with less access to this technology.

Solid majorities in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe are internet savvy, but in Pakistan and Indonesia, fewer than 10% say they go online as do only 15% of Russians and 14% of Indians. About a third in Poland, Turkey and China say they access the internet.

Unsurprisingly, in all societies, education level and income are the predominant determinants of those who use technology, with those who have higher education levels and larger incomes more likely both to use computers and to access the internet. For example, in India, the rate of computer usage ranges upward from 36% among those with at least some college education, compared with rates ranging downward from 14% among those with less education. In Spain, fewer than a third of those with a primary level education or less use a computer while usage rates range upward from 61% among those with a secondary level or higher degree. In the Netherlands, however, computer users number more than six-in-ten even among those with little or no education and are nearly universal at the highest education levels.

The “Net” Not Just For the Young Anymore

While the internet user population in 2002 was dominated by younger people, since then the growth rate for adults over 50 has outpaced that for young adults both in the United States and throughout Western Europe.

In 2002, more than eight-in-ten of those under 30 years of age in the U.S., Germany and Canada reported going online to access the internet. Those numbers have risen in all countries surveyed, but most dramatically in Poland, France and Great Britain.

However, the increase in internet access has been still greater among 50-64 year olds, averaging nearly 20 percentage points for that age group in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Steady but slower increase in internet use was registered among those 65 and older.

Still, in countries around the world with relatively low overall internet use, the most dramatic increase occurred among the young. In China and India, the rate of internet use rose 15% among those under 30. Young Turks made the most progress; whereas only about a third (33%) of people in Turkey under the age of 30 said they went online in 2002, today a 56%-majority accesses the internet.