Tools & tech

Global smartphone ownership and internet usage

A new Pew Research Centre survey looks at adult smartphone ownership and internet usage across 40 countries in 2015.

Technology usage rates in emerging / developing economies lag behind those in advanced economies, but emerging / developing economies are rapidly catching up.

Internet usage

For adult internet users, the advanced economies median in 2015 was 87% compared with 54% in emerging / developing economies. However, the emerging / developing economies median grew from 45% to 54% in the two years from 2013 to 2015.

The countries with the highest proportion of internet users across all of the 40 countries surveyed were South Korea (94%), followed by Australia (93%), Canada (90%), and then the United States (89%). The countries with the lowest proportion were Ethiopia (8%), followed by Uganda (11%), Pakistan (15%), and then Burkina Faso (18%).

Smartphone ownership

For adult smartphone ownership, the advanced economies median in 2015 was 68% compared with 37% in emerging / developing economies. However, the emerging / developing economies median grew from 21% to 37% in the two years from 2013 to 2015.

The overwhelming majority of people across all of the 40 countries surveyed reported owning some form of mobile device, even if they were not considered smartphones.

The countries with highest proportion of people owning a smartphone across all of the 40 countries surveyed were South Korea (88%), followed by Australia (77%), Israel (74%), and then the United States (72%). The countries with the lowest proportion were Ethiopia and Uganda (4%), followed by Pakistan and Tanzania (11%).

Social networking site usage

Across the 40 countries surveyed, 76% of internet users use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The strongest social networking site use was found in regions with lower internet rates: “Roughly three-quarters or more of internet users in the Middle East (86%), Latin America (82%) and Africa (76%) say they use social networks, compared with 71% in the U.S. and 65% across six European nations.”

However, while internet users in emerging / developing economies are more likely to use social media compared with those in advanced economies, internet access rates in the emerging / developing economies are lower. Because of this, the number of people participating in social networking is still smaller as a share of the total population in many of the emerging / developing economies.

Age demographics

In nearly every country, across both advanced economies and emerging / developing economies, internet and smartphone use is much higher among Millennials (those aged 18 to 34) than for those aged 35 and older. Younger internet users also tend to access the internet at least daily and have higher social networking participation rates.

Key findings

Five key findings from the survey are:

  1. About half of adults across the 29 emerging and developing economies surveyed say that they use the internet.
  2. Smartphone ownership rates are rising in many emerging and developing nations, and about a third of people across emerging and developing nations reported owning a smartphone in 2015.
  3. For people who do have online access, social networking is popular nearly everywhere, but especially in the emerging world.
  4. Internet access is strongly tied to per-capita national income. Richer countries in the survey tend to have higher rates of internet access or smartphone ownership compared with poorer nations.
  5. Global Millennials are well on their way to being the first generation for which internet use is nearly universal.

Survey data summary

The survey data can be explored in this interactive table:

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes (www.bruceboyes.info) is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (www.realkm.com) and currently also teaches in the University of NSW (UNSW) Foundation Studies program in China. He has expertise and experience in a wide range of areas including knowledge management (KM), environmental management, program and project management, writing and editing, stakeholder engagement, communications, and research. Bruce holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction and a Certificate of Technology (Electronics). With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource for knowledge managers, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee the implementation of an award-winning $77.4 million river recovery program in western Sydney on time and under budget, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support communities to sustainably manage landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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