Being young in Europe today - digital world
Data extracted in December 2017
Planned article update: June 2021
In 2016, 91 % of young people in the EU made daily use of the internet, compared with 71 % for the whole EU population.
In 2016, 83 % of young people used mobile phones to access the internet away from home or work, compared with 38 % who used a portable computer in this way.
A paper edition of the publication was also published in 2015. In late 2017, a decision was taken to update the online version of the publication (subject to data availability).
Information and communication technologies (ICT) affect people’s everyday lives in many ways, whether in the workplace, an educational establishment, at home or on the move. Mobile phones, tablets, netbooks, laptops and computers are just some of the devices that are frequently used — often on a daily basis — by a large proportion of the population of the European Union (EU), particularly by young people.
The use of ICTs is widespread among children from a very young age as they access technology in the home or at friends’ or relatives’ houses and at school; indeed, it has become commonplace to see young children playing on mobile phones and tablets even before they are able to read and write. By the time young people in the EU leave compulsory education most of them have regularly made use of computers and the internet for a variety of activities. ICTs are used by schools and other educational establishments not only to develop ICT skills but also to support the teaching of traditional subjects such as mathematics or foreign languages.
A digital age divide
Households with dependent children more likely to have access to a computer and the internet at home
Looking at access to ICTs at home, more than four fifths (85 %) of all households in the EU-28 had internet access in 2016; the corresponding share in 2007 (the start of the time series for the EU-28) was 55 %. Between 2007 and 2016 the proportion of households with dependent children that had access to the internet was consistently higher than that for households without dependent children (see Figure 1). The gap between households with dependent children and those without continued to grow between 2007 and 2011 but thereafter narrowed between 2011 and 2016; this may be attributed, at least in part, to internet access becoming almost universal among households with dependent children. Nevertheless, rates of internet access continued to increase through to 2016, reaching 96 % for households with dependent children and 82 % for households without dependent children.
A broadly similar situation could be observed for households having access to a computer: a higher proportion of households in the EU-28 with dependent children had access to a computer than those without. An analysis of the gap between households with and without dependent children shows a different development for access to a computer than for internet access. The gap between households with dependent children and those without narrowed as the share of households with dependent children with access to computer approached saturation. By 2015, the gap nevertheless remained substantial, as the proportion of households with dependent children that had a computer was 16 percentage points higher than that for households without dependent children (94 % versus 78 %).
Daily internet use overtook daily computer use among young people in 2012
Shorter time series, from 2011 to 2015 or 2016, are available for indicators concerning the daily use of a computer or the internet. This information is available for young people (defined here as those aged 16-29 years) and the whole population (see Figure 2). In the EU-28 a far higher proportion of young people made use of a computer and the internet on a daily basis than the rest of the population. Almost four out of every five (79 %) young people used a computer on a daily basis in 2015, which was 16 points higher than among the whole population (63 %). There was a modest reduction in rate at which young people used computers on a daily basis: having peaked at 82 % in 2013, this share fell in consecutive years to 79 % by 2015, possibly reflecting a move to using other types of devices. By contrast, the share of the total population that made use of a computer on a daily basis rose at a modest pace, rising by 5 points from 58 % to 63 % over the period 2011 to 2015.
In comparison, developments for daily internet use across the EU-28 were more uniform, with the rates for young people and for the whole population both following an upward path between 2011 and 2016. Interestingly, in 2012 the rate of daily internet use overtook daily computer use among young people, reflecting the use of the internet on a range of alternative devices, such as smart phones or tablets. In 2016, more than 9 in 10 (91 %) young people in the EU-28 made daily use of the internet, this was 12 points higher than the share recorded five years earlier. Young people made greater use of the internet on a daily basis than the average for the whole of the EU-28 population (71 % in 2016). The gap between young people and the whole population for daily internet use was 20 points in 2016, which was somewhat higher than the gap recorded for daily computer use (16 points in 2015).
The highest shares of daily computer use among young people were recorded in Estonia …
An analysis of daily computer and internet use may be extended to the EU Member States, as shown in Figures 3 and 4, which present data for 2015 and 2016. In 19 EU Member States, more than four out of every five young people aged 16-29 years used a computer on a daily basis in 2015. The highest rates of daily computer use among young people were recorded in Estonia (90 %), Poland (89 %), the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovakia (all 88 %). By contrast, the lowest proportion of young people making daily use of a computer was recorded in Spain (66 %), followed by Romania (69 %).
Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania all recorded rates for the daily use of computers among young people that were at least 30 points higher than for the whole population. By contrast, the disparities between the share of young people and the share of the whole population making daily use of a computer were relatively small (less than 5 points) in Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. In the United Kingdom, there were identical shares of young people and the total population making daily use of a computer, while Luxembourg was the only EU Member State where the rate among young people was lower than for the population as a whole (75 % compared with 81 %).
… while northern and western Europe recorded the highest daily use of the internet among young people
In 2016, there were nine EU Member States where at least 95 % of young people aged 16-29 years used the internet on a daily basis: Luxembourg (99 %), Estonia and Finland (both 98 %), Denmark (97 %), the United Kingdom (96 %), Germany, Latvia, Malta and the Netherlands (all 95 %). The rate of daily internet use among young people was within the range of 90-95 % for a majority of the remaining Member States, with Greece, Poland, Sweden and Italy just below this range. Lower rates were recorded in Bulgaria (81 %) and particularly Romania (73 %).
Daily use of the internet in 2016 was consistently higher among young people than it was for the whole population in each of the EU Member States. Differences between these two groups were often considerable (see below for more details), although in the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Sweden, relatively high shares of the whole population made daily use of the internet, resulting in gaps of less than 10 points when compared with the rates for young people. Portugal, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia recorded the biggest differences in daily use of the internet between young people and the whole population, each recording a gap of at least 30 points. Despite relatively low average rates of daily internet use (57-64 %) across their whole populations, the proportion of young people making daily use of the internet was within a range of 89-94 % for all but two of these eight EU Member States; Bulgaria and Romania were the exceptions.
The highest proportion of daily internet users was recorded among those aged 16-19 years and those with a higher level of formal education
Figure 5 shows the proportion of people making daily use of the internet in 2016, by age and by formal educational attainment. A considerably higher proportion of young people in the EU-28 made daily use of the internet with the highest propensity among those aged 16-19 years. Indeed, 93 % of young people aged 16-19 years made daily use of the internet in 2016 compared with 90 % among young people aged 25-29 years.
Figure 5 also shows that daily internet use increases — across both the whole population and young people — as a function of the level of formal educational attainment; note the analysis by level of education for young people only covers those aged 16-24 years. The proportion of young people aged 16-24 years in the EU-28 with a low level of formal education making daily use of the internet was 91 % in 2016, considerably higher than for all people with no or a low level of formal education (50 %). Among young people with a medium level of formal education this share reached 93 %, again considerably higher than for the whole population (72 %). Finally, some 96 % of young people with a high level of formal education made daily use of the internet, which was only slightly higher than the corresponding share for the whole population (91 %).
The vast majority of young people used the internet at home, while almost half made use of the internet at other people’s houses and almost two fifths at a place of education
An analysis of where people in the EU-28 used the internet in 2013 (see Figure 6) confirms a number of expected patterns: for example, the proportion of young people aged 16-29 years that used the internet at work (29 %) was below the average for the population as a whole (32 %), while the reverse was true for use of the internet at a place of education (38 % compared with 10 %). The use of the internet at home as well as at other people’s houses was also higher among young people than for the population as a whole, reflecting, at least to some degree, the overall higher use of the internet by young people. In particular, the use of the internet at other people’s houses was more than twice as high among young people (46 %) as among the population as a whole (22 %).
Figure 7 shows that in 2016 almost three fifths (59 %) of the EU-28 population used a mobile device such as a mobile phone or portable computer (including laptops and tablets) to connect to the internet when away from home or work and this proportion reached 85 % among young people aged 16-29 years.
The use of mobile phones for internet connections away from home or work was considerably higher than that of portable computers for the same purpose. For the population as a whole, the proportion of people in the EU-28 that used a mobile phone to connect to the internet away from home or work was 29 points higher (56 %) than the proportion who used a portable computer in this way (27 %) in 2016. For young people, this difference was even greater, as 83 % made use of mobile phones to access the internet away from home or work, which was 45 points higher than the share that used a portable computer in this way (38 %). This pattern reinforces the view that a higher proportion of young people in the EU-28 use handheld devices — mainly mobile phones — to connect to the internet while on the move, rather than portable computers.
In 10 EU Member States, more than 9 out of 10 young people used a mobile device to connect to the internet on the move
An analysis of the use of mobile devices to connect to the internet when away from home or work in 2016 shows that these were used by more than 9 out of 10 young people aged 16-29 years in the United Kingdom, Austria, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Belgium, Germany, Cyprus and Malta (see Figure 8), while in Italy, Poland and Romania the proportion was less than three quarters; note that each of these three countries was characterised by a generally low level of internet use, so it is perhaps not surprising that they also recorded low proportions for mobile internet usage.
Generally, mobile devices were used to connect to the internet by a higher proportion of young people in northern and western EU Member States and by a lower proportion of young people in the eastern and southern EU Member States. A comparison between the whole population and young people shows that the largest differences (in percentage point terms) in the use of such mobile devices to connect to the internet were recorded in Portugal, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia and Italy, and the smallest in Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Information and communications technology skills
Information and communications technology (ICT) skills are regarded as being essential to benefit from and contribute to a knowledge-based economy and society. The analysis presented here shows that young people report, on average, a higher level of computer skills and internet skills than the population as a whole .
The share of young people who had written computer programming code was twice as high as the share for the whole population
In 2016, four fifths of all young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-28 reported that they had (at any time in the past) performed basic computer tasks such as copying or moving a file or a folder, while a higher share (87 %; 2014 data) had used cut, copy and paste functions. The share of young people that had carried out some of the other tasks on a computer was lower, for example, those creating presentations or documents that integrate text, pictures, tables or charts (59 %), or those that used a spreadsheet (52 %). The proportion of young people that reported having carried out these basic computing tasks was 21-24 points higher than the average for the whole population, with the exception of using spreadsheets where the difference was lower (14 points).
More technical competences, such as writing code in a programming language, were much less widespread as just 12 % of young people in the EU-28 reported that they had ever carried out such an activity, although this was double the 6 % share that was recorded for the population as a whole (see Figure 9).
The most recent information available for internet skills (see Figure 10) is for 2013. This shows a similar pattern, with high rates among young people in the EU-28 for basic skills such as using a search engine (94 %) or sending an e-mail with attachments (87 %), while more than two thirds of young people posted messages online (72 %), just over half used the internet for calling people (53 %) and around one third (32 %) used peer-to-peer file sharing services. As for computer skills, the proportion of young people that reported that they had carried out these basic internet tasks was around 20 points higher than the average for the whole population, with the exception of posting messages online where the difference was even greater (34 points).
More technical internet skills were less widespread, with just under one in five (18 %) young people in the EU-28 having created a web page; nevertheless, this was nearly double the average (10 %) for the population as a whole.
A relatively high proportion of Denmark’s young people had experience in coding
The proportion of young people who reported having written code in a programming language ranged, in 2016, from 26 % in Denmark to just 2 % in Bulgaria and Romania (see Figure 11). In Portugal the difference between the shares of young people and the whole population with this particular skill reached 16 points, followed by Denmark (12 points), Greece (11 points), Estonia and the Netherlands (both 10 points). By contrast, in the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania the difference was less than 3 points.
Youth online: a way of life
Figures 12 and 13 present a selection of online civic and social activities performed in the EU-28 by both young people aged 16-29 years and the population as a whole in 2016 (2014 or 2015 for a few activities). Figure 12 generally concerns activities performed during the 12-month period prior to the survey (with some exceptions) whereas for Figure 13 the period concerned is the 3-month period prior to the survey.
A slightly higher proportion of young people (than the whole population) carried out civic activities online …
Among the online civic activities presented in Figure 12, the most common for young people were related to online interaction with public authorities and obtaining information from websites of public authorities. Some 16 % of young people in the EU-28 posted their opinions on civic or political issues via websites in the 3-month period prior to the 2015 survey; this was a higher share than the average across the whole population (11 %), the 5 point difference being the largest among the six civic activities shown.
… while a much higher proportion of young people (than the whole population) made use of social networks
A higher proportion of young people performed each of the selected social activities; this was particularly true for making use of social networks (such as Facebook or Twitter). The most common online social activities for young people in the EU-28 in the 3-month period prior to the 2016 survey included sending and receiving e-mails (86 %) and participating on social networking sites (83 %), while half of all young people telephoned or made video calls and 47 % uploaded self-created content, such as photos, videos or text to the internet.
A comparison between the proportion of young people and the proportion of the whole population engaged in online social activities across the EU-28 in 2016 shows that the largest difference between these two groups was recorded for participation on social networking sites (31 points), and the smallest for creating websites or blogs (3 points). Young people were 2.5 times as likely (as the whole population) to use the internet for multiplayer online gaming (2014 data).
Figure 14 provides more detailed information by EU Member State concerning participation on social networking sites in 2016. More than 9 out of 10 young people in Denmark, Luxembourg, Portugal, Belgium, Estonia, Cyprus, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia used social networking sites, while the majority of the remaining Member States reported that between 80 % and 90 % of young people participated in these activities. At the other end of the scale, there were five Member States where between 70 % and 80 % of young people participated on social networking sites: Romania, Italy, France, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
Young people participated much more on social networking sites than the population as a whole. The difference for the EU-28 as a whole was 31 points in 2016 and this pattern was repeated in each of the EU Member States, with the gap reaching more than 40 points in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Lithuania and Portugal.
The use of wikis by young people was generally higher in northern and western EU Member States
The internet is widely regarded as a source of information and a selection of other activities related to finding or exchanging information is presented in Figure 15, which also covers the use of the internet for downloading content. Among the seven selected activities, using the internet for travel and accommodation services and seeking health information were the two least commonly undertaken tasks by young people in 2016. The difference between the proportion of young people and the whole population using the internet for travel and accommodation services and to find health information was as low as 2-3 points. By contrast, the largest gap was recorded for playing/downloading games, images, films or music, an activity performed by 70 % of young people compared with 40 % of the whole population (2014 data).
Consulting wikis, such as Wikipedia, was also a popular online activity undertaken in 2015 by almost two thirds (64 %) of young people in the EU-28. Figure 16 shows how this activity varied among the EU Member States, with a high proportion of young people in some northern and western EU Member States making use of wikis, with a peak in Finland (91 %) and shares within the range of 84-85 % in Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany and Croatia. The difference between the proportion of young people using wikis and the average for the whole population was highest in Croatia, Portugal and Slovenia, where the difference was more than 30 percentage points; the smallest differences (less than 10 points) were reported for the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Ireland.
Young people were almost twice as likely (as the total population) to use the internet to look for a job or to submit a job application
Online banking and participating in professional networks (such as LinkedIn) are two internet activities used to a similar degree by young people and the whole population (see Figure 17). In 2016, 51 % of young people used online banking in the EU-28, only 2 points higher than the average for the whole population. Online professional networks were used by only 13 % of young people, broadly in line with the 10 % share for the whole population (2015 data), although it should be noted that many young people are likely to still be studying and therefore not yet looking to establish such networks.
For the two remaining activities shown in Figure 17, young people in the EU-28 were almost twice as likely to use the internet to look for a job or to submit a job application (33 % compared with 17 % for the whole population in 2015), while one fifth (20 % in 2016) of young people sold goods or services over the internet (for example, by using online auctions) compared with 18 % for the population as a whole. While 13 % of the total population of the EU-28 used the internet to make an appointment with a (medical) practitioner in 2016, the share for young people was 1 point lower; it should however be noted that as young people tend to be in better health, they may be expected to require fewer such appointments.
The proportion of young people selling goods or services online varied greatly between the EU Member States in 2016 (see Figure 18). Hardly any young people made online sales in Greece (2 %), while the proportion remained below 10 % in Romania, Cyprus, Lithuania and Italy. In 12 EU Member States the proportion exceeded one fifth, rising to 38 % in Denmark and peaking at 46 % in Croatia. The proportion of young people selling online exceeded the average share for the whole population most notably in Croatia and Estonia. By contrast, the share of young people selling online was the same as the average for the whole population in Germany, Ireland and France and was below the average for the whole population in the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Conclusions: what future for young people in the digital world?
Young Europeans spend an increasing amount of their time consuming digital media. While time spent watching television may be falling, their use of online media has grown rapidly, facilitated through a range of services such as video streams, chat rooms, blogs or social media. Although the internet can provide a place for young people to share their experiences and to exchange their views, there are also risks.
Some concerns over the use of the internet centre on the safety of children and young people and their behaviour, for example, increasing solitude as young people withdraw to a private place to go online. Furthermore, some children and young people may have their privacy violated when they are online or alternatively they may be exposed to potentially harmful content, which may create dependency, anxiety or aggression.
This article has shown that the use of ICTs is widespread among children and young people and is, in some instances, reaching saturation. Young people generally possess a wider range of ICT skills (than older generations) and it seems likely that this pattern will continue for future generations with young people likely to remain at the forefront of adopting new technologies (be these hardware or software/services). The challenge for policymakers within this domain will be to ensure that the social and economic benefits from exploiting ICTs are delivered in unison with the safe use of digital media, in particular for more vulnerable sections of society.
Source data for tables and graphs
The data presented in this article come from Eurostat’s survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals, which is updated on an annual basis to ensure that the data collected remain relevant for policy use. While the questions and areas of interest for the surveys change each year to reflect modern ICT use, there is a core section of the survey which aims to provide stable and continued data collection for several key indicators thereby making analyses over time possible. ICT surveys initially concentrated on access and internet connectivity issues, but their scope has subsequently been extended to cover a variety of subjects, including for example internet security or the use of social media and cloud services. The results of the survey can be analysed according to a range of socioeconomic categories, including sex, age, educational differences or whether there are children or not in a household. In most EU Member States the surveys are carried out in the second quarter of each year asking about activities in the first quarter of the same year; sometimes questions (for example, on e-commerce or e-government) are asked about activities during the previous 12 months.
ICT surveys cover households having at least one member in the age group 16-74 years. Households with children are those with at least one member aged less than 16 years. Within this article statistics that refer to the whole population cover those aged 16-74 years while young people is a collective term used to describe the subpopulation of people aged 16-29 years; note that this age range was unavailable for some of the analysis presented and in these cases the coverage of young people has been modified to those within the range of 16-24 years.
A DIGITAL AGENDA FOR EUROPE
The Digital Agenda for Europe is one of the seven flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It outlines policies and actions aimed at maximising the benefit of the digital era to all sections of society and the economy. The agenda focuses on seven priority areas for action: creating a digital single market, greater interoperability, boosting internet trust and security, providing much faster internet access, encouraging investment in research and development, enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion, and applying ICT to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population.
BETTER INTERNET FOR OUR CHILDREN
As well as providing opportunities for work, study, leisure activities and social interaction, the internet contains hazards for all users. The basis of the European Commission’s Communication European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children (COM(2012) 196 final) is to protect children and to make children and young people more aware of the risks involved with using the internet, while teaching digital literacy so that children may benefit fully and safely from being online. The strategy, which was adopted in May 2012, is constructed around four pillars: stimulate quality content online for young people; step up awareness and empowerment; create a safe environment for children online; and fight against child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.
INSAFE, INHOPE AND SAFER INTERNET
Insafe and Inhope are European networks, co-funded by the EU, made up of 31 national Safer internet centres, in the EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Russia. The national centres implement awareness and educational campaigns, run helplines and work closely with young people to ensure an evidence-based, multi-stakeholder approach to creating a better internet.
On 6 February 2018, the EU launched a range of new initiatives under the heading of Safer internet day. It is designed to ensure that children, young people, parents, teachers, and other EU citizens become empowered and responsible digital users. The web portal for this initiative (http://www.betterinternetforkids.eu/web/portal/home) provides access to a wealth of information including an online course on child safety with teaching resources for topics such as fake news, cyberbullying and radicalisation.
One of the issues related to the safety of the internet for children is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is regarded as a serious threat with a potentially long-lasting impact. Repeated verbal or psychological harassment may come from an individual or a group and may involve, for example, mockery, insults, threats, rumours or gossip. E-mail, mobile phones and web services such as social networks, chat rooms and instant messaging provide opportunities for cyberbullying. More information is available from the European platform for investing in children.
- Digital economy and society (t_isoc), see:
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (t_isoc_i)
- Digital skills (t_isoc_sk)
- Digital economy and society (isoc), see:
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (isoc_i)
- Digital skills (isoc_sk)
- Youth (yth), see:
- Youth in the digital world (yth_isoc)
- Digital economy & society in the EU — a browse through our online world in figures — 2017 edition; online publication
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (isoc_i) (ESMS metadata file — isoc_i)
- European Commission Communication (COM(2010) 245 final), of 19 May 2010 on a Digital Agenda for Europe
- Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee (COM(2012) 196 final), of 2 May 2012 on a European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children
- Note that digital skills are measured by self-reporting of certain activities carried out during a period of time prior to the survey, and are not directly tested or observed through the survey.