If all the “digital natives” in the world combined to form their own country, it would be slightly larger than the US, according to a report [pdf] from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Georgia Institute of Technology, which together constructed a model to estimate the number – and penetration – of digital natives around the world. Out of the world’s population of 7 billion, an estimated 363 million count as digital natives, per the report. That’s 5.2% of the world’s population – but that figure varies significantly by country.
A quick note on what is meant by “digital natives.” The study defines a digital native as “a youth, aged 15-24 inclusive, with 5 years or more experience using the internet.”
While the study did look at the percentage of youth who are digital natives by country (some results are contained in the chart above), one of the study’s co-authors believes that the most relevant figure is the one comparing the number of digital natives to a country’s total population. “That’s because a country’s future will be defined by today’s young people and by technology,” according to GA Tech Associate Professor Michael Best, a co-leader of the study who developed the model calculating the figures.
Onto the results. The researchers find that the country with the highest proportion of digital natives in its population is Iceland, at 13.9%. Next on the list is New Zealand (13.6%), followed by the Republic of Korea (13.5%) and Malaysia (13.4%), with Lithuania (13.2%) rounding out the top 5. Where’s the US? Up next, in the 6th spot, with 13.1% of its population counting as digital natives. Barbados (13.1%), Slovakia (12.7%), Latvia (12.3%) and Denmark (12.3%) round out the top 10.
Not surprisingly, the countries in the top 10 tend to be high- or upper-middle-income countries with widespread internet penetration and/or large swathes of youth. In fact, Malaysia owes its #4 position to its relatively high share of youth (17.9% of the population is aged 15-24, compared to 13-14% for the other top 10 countries), rather than to high incidence of digital natives among those youth (74.7%, compared to 90-99% for the other top 10 countries).
Also unsurprising: the countries with the largest populations tend to field the largest absolute volume of digital natives. China leads with 75.2 million digital natives, although it’s far down the list in terms of concentration at #89, with only 5.6% of its population deemed digital natives. The US boasts 41.3 million digital natives (95.6% of its 15-24-year-old population are digital natives – more details on internet penetration in the US can be found here), while India sports 22.7 million (just 1.8% of its population), slightly ahead of Brazil (20.1 million; 10.1% of its population).
Other interesting results from the study follow:
- Just 0.1% of the population of Timor Leste – the bottom-ranked country in terms of concentration – are digital natives.
- The bottom 10 countries are made up of only Asian and African countries, many of which are mired in conflict.
- An impressive 99.6% of Korea’s 15-24-year-olds are digital natives, with Japan (99.5%) also right up there. Japan was ranked only 47th in digital native concentration due to a relatively small proportion of its population (9.7%) being in the 15-24 age group.
- Some Western European countries appeared relatively far down the list of digital native penetration, including the UK (#25; 11.1%), France (#26; 11%).
About the Data: Complete methodological details can be found beginning on page 138 of the report.