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Almost half of the world is now online, according to recent research. Now, a new report [pdf] from the Pew Research Center looks further into internet use, revealing that it continues to grow in developing countries while remaining high in advanced economies.

To arrive at its conclusions, Pew examined a 2017 survey it conducted among more than 40,000 people across 37 countries. It then supplemented that with an analysis of a 2018 survey of more than 2,000 Americans and a 2016 survey of more than 3,000 Chinese respondents.

As the report details, there continues to be a major divide in internet use between more mature economies and developing countries. However, that gap appears to be closing as emerging countries rapidly adopt the internet. For example, across the 19 emerging and developing economies surveyed, a median 64% of respondents reported accessing the internet at least occasionally or owning a smartphone. That represents a 50% rise from a median average of 42% reporting internet access between 2013 and 2014.

Similar patterns emerge with smartphone ownership and social media usage, as emerging and developing economies grow in usage to close the gap with advanced economies, where these figures have plateaued.

In fact, the use of online social networking sites is now almost as high in developing and emerging countries as it is in advanced economies. And the share of internet users accessing social networking sites is in many cases higher in those emerging and developing economies than in the advanced ones.

The Pew analysts note that differences don’t only occur across countries, but within them too. Digital divides are observed in many countries by age, education, and income, as well as in some cases by gender. Those differences are not unique to any particular type of country: indeed, recent data indicates that such divides are prevalent in the US, too.

The above chart offers data on internet usage, smartphone ownership and social media adoption across each of the 37 countries. The following are some brief highlights.

  • Of the 37 countries surveyed, internet usage is highest in South Korea (96%), followed by Australia (93%), the Netherlands (93%), Sweden (92%) and Canada (91%). The US stands close behind at 89% adoption.
  • Internet usage is lowest in India and Tanzania (each at 25%).
  • Smartphone ownership is extremely high in South Korea (94%), the only country to exceed 90% ownership. The next-highest rates of smartphone ownership are found in Israel (83%), Australia (82%), Sweden (80%), the Netherlands (80%) and Lebanon (80%). In the US 77% of adults own smartphones.
  • Tanzania (13%) has easily the lowest rate of smartphone ownership of the 37 countries measured, with India (22%), Indonesia (27%) and Tunisia (27%) the only others with less than 30% owning a smartphone.
  • Social media use – defined as those who visit online social networking sites – is highest in Jordan (75%) and Lebanon (72%), the only to surpass 70% adoption. The next-highest rates of social media adoption are in the US, Australia, and South Korea, each at 69%.
  • Social media has yet to make as much inroads in India and Tanzania (each at 20%), but are nonetheless high in those countries considering their nascent internet penetration. Indeed, the 20% of adults using social media in those countries represents 80% of their internet users, which is a higher rate than in the US, where 77.5% of internet users report visiting social networking sites.

Expand the chart above for the list of stats by country, and view the report here [pdf] for the full data and commentary.

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