Iceland leads world in young people online as proportion of population

After achieving the first attempt to measure by country, the “digital natives” in the world, researchers have found that Iceland tops the list of having the highest percentage of young people online as a proportion of the population.

The term “digital native” is emerging as a way to categorize people too young to remember what the world was like before the personal computer – they have spent all their lives connected with technology and being online is a natural part of their day-to-day.

As part of a larger study titled Measuring the Information Society, the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) measured the number of digital natives in each country and found, among other things that:

  • Contrary to popular myth, only 30% of the world’s young people aged from 15 to 24 have been active online for at least five years.
  • This ranges from 99.6% of 15-to-24-year-old Koreans active online to less than 1% on the Asian island of Timor Leste.
  • 99.5% of the Japanese born around the millenium are digital natives, followed by several European countries, such as Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, and then the US at nearly 96%.

However, Georgia Tech Associate Professor Michael Best believes as far as trying to predict which countries are best prepared to embrace the future, it is the number of digital natives compared to a nation’s total population that matters.

“That’s because a country’s future will be defined by today’s young people and by technology,” he says.

Prof. Best co-led the study with ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, and together they developed the model that helped them estimate the numbers of digital natives in countries around the world.

They populated the model with data collected from surveys the ITU conducted around the world.

“Countries with a high proportion of young people who are already online are positioned to define and lead the digital age of tomorrow,” Prof. Best adds.

When you look at the digital native numbers in the way Prof. Best proposes, as a percentage of a nation’s population, you see a different picture, with rich countries at the top as expected, but also some surprises:

  • Overall, 5.2% of the world’s population comprises digital natives (363 million in a world population of nearly 7 billion).
  • At 13.9%, Iceland tops the list with the highest proportion of digital natives among its population.
  • The US ranks 6th, at 13.1%.
  • But Malaysia, a middle-income country beats the US, to come in 4th place, with 13.4% of its population estimated to be digital natives. Malaysia has invested strongly in use of technology in education.

At the bottom of the list, with the lowest proportion of digital natives among their populations, are Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. In fact all 10 countries at the bottom of the list are in Africa or Asia, many of which are struggling with conflict and/or low access to the Internet.

But the report also notes that Internet use is rising rapidly in the developing world, and the ITU suggests the numbers of digital natives in those countries will more than double in the next three or four years.

ITU secretary-general Dr. Hamadoun Tourè says:

“Youth are transforming our world through the power of information and communication technologies.”

An ITU declaration that was developed at a youth summit in Costa Rica and presented to the UN General Assembly recently, calls for more measurable targets to track the digital empowerment of youth at national, regional and international levels. The study’s attempt to measure the world’s digital natives is a valuable first step, says Dr. Tourè.