Bridging the Digital Divide: Global Disparities in Internet and Smartphone Usage

Pew Research Center data reveals technology usage disparities between countries and within demographic groups

In an era where internet access and smartphone ownership have become integral parts of daily life for many, a new report from the Pew Research Center highlights the persistent digital divides that exist across the globe. While some advanced economies have near-universal internet use and smartphone ownership, emerging economies and certain demographic groups still face significant barriers to accessing technology. This article delves into the data from 27 countries, exploring the disparities in internet use, smartphone ownership, and social media engagement.

Internet Use: A Global Perspective

The Pew Research Center’s analysis reveals that, on average, a majority of adults in the surveyed countries use the internet. However, significant disparities exist between countries, with South Korea leading the pack at a staggering 99% internet usage rate. On the other end of the spectrum, India, Nigeria, and Kenya have lower rates of internet use, ranging from 56% to 66%. These figures reflect the correlation between economic development and technology accessibility.

Age, Education, and Income: Key Factors in Internet Use

Within countries, internet use varies significantly based on demographic factors such as age, education, and income. Younger adults, aged 18 to 39, are consistently more likely to be online compared to their older counterparts. The education gap is also pronounced, particularly in emerging economies like India and Nigeria, where individuals with higher education levels are twice as likely to use the internet. Similar disparities exist based on income, with higher-income individuals having greater internet access.

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The Rise of Smartphone Ownership

Smartphone ownership is another crucial aspect of technology usage. The Pew Research Center’s data shows that majorities in most countries surveyed own smartphones, with South Korea leading again at a staggering 98%. However, India and Nigeria have lower rates of smartphone ownership, with fewer than 50% of adults reporting owning a smartphone. It is worth noting that in some countries, a significant portion of the population owns mobile phones that are not smartphones.

Socioeconomic Factors and Smartphone Ownership

Similar to internet use, smartphone ownership is influenced by socioeconomic factors. Higher-income individuals are more likely to own smartphones in almost every country surveyed. This trend is particularly evident in Hungary, Israel, and Poland, where those with higher incomes are around 30 percentage points more likely to own a smartphone. Additionally, adults with higher education levels and younger adults (18-39) are more likely to own smartphones compared to their counterparts.

Social Media Engagement: A Global Trend

Social media use has become increasingly pervasive across the globe, with majorities in all but two countries reporting using social media sites. Argentina, Brazil, and Malaysia lead the pack, with over eight-in-ten adults engaging with social media platforms. While there is a generational gap in social media use, with younger adults being more active, the age divide has narrowed in recent years. The report also highlights a correlation between political ideology and social media use in some countries.


The Pew Research Center’s analysis underscores the digital divides that persist globally, both between countries and within demographic groups. While internet use and smartphone ownership have become nearly universal in some advanced economies, emerging economies and certain segments of the population still face significant barriers to accessing technology. Bridging these divides will require targeted efforts to improve infrastructure, increase affordability, and enhance digital literacy. As technology continues to shape our world, it is crucial to ensure that no one is left behind in the digital age.

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