Being young in Europe today - digital world
Data extracted in July 2020.
Planned article update: September 2022.
In 2019, 94 % of young people in the EU-27 made daily use of the internet, compared with 77 % for the whole population.
In 2019, 92 % of young people used mobile phones to access the internet away from home or work, compared with 52 % who used a portable computer in this way.
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, 9 out of every 10 households in the EU-27 had internet access in 2019; the corresponding share in 2009 was 55 %. Between 2009 and 2019 the proportion of households with dependent children that had access to the internet was consistently higher than the share for households without dependent children (see Figure 1). The gap between households with dependent children and those without fell each year during this period; 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 2019, reaching 98 % 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-27 with dependent children had access to a computer than those without. As for access to the internet, 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 2017, the gap nevertheless remained substantial, as the proportion of households with dependent children that had a computer was 15 percentage points higher than that for households without dependent children (94 % compared with 79 %).
Daily internet use overtook daily computer use among young people in 2012
Shorter time series (starting from 2011) are available for indicators concerning the daily use of a computer or the internet by age group, rather than by type of household. This information is available for young people (defined here as those aged 16-29 years) and is compared in Figure 2 with the whole adult population (defined here as all individuals aged 16-74 years). In the EU-27, a higher proportion of young people made use of a computer and the internet on a daily basis than the rest of the population. Around three quarters (76 %) of all young people used a computer on a daily basis in 2017, which was 14 percentage points higher than among the adult population (62 %). In recent years, there was a modest reduction in the rate at which young people used computers on a daily basis: having peaked at 81 % in 2013, this share fell to 76 % by 2017, possibly reflecting a move to using other types of devices. By contrast, the share of the adult population that made use of a computer on a daily basis rose at a modest pace before stabilising, rising from 57 % to 62 % during the period 2011 to 2017.
By comparison, developments for daily internet use across the EU-27 followed an upward path both for young people and for the whole adult population between 2011 and 2019. 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 2019, some 94 % of young people in the EU-27 made daily use of the internet, this was 16 percentage points higher than the share recorded in 2011. Young people in the EU-27 were more likely to use the internet on a daily basis than the whole of the adult population (77 % in 2019). The gap between young people and the whole adult population for daily internet use was 17 points in 2019, which was somewhat lower than the 24 point gap that was recorded in 2011. This may be explained, at least in part, by daily internet use among young people reaching near saturation, while internet use across the much of the rest of the adult population continued to increase (driven by an increasing share of older persons using the internet).
The highest shares of daily computer use among young people were recorded in Czechia …
Figures on daily computer and internet use, as shown in Figures 3 and 4, present data for 2017 and 2019 across the EU Member States. In 18 Member States, at least four out of every five young people aged 16-29 years used a computer on a daily basis in 2017. The highest rates of daily computer use among young people were recorded in Czechia (90 %), Poland, Slovakia (both 89 %) and Lithuania (88 %). By contrast, the lowest proportions of young people making daily use of a computer were recorded in France (68 %), Italy (66 %) and Spain (61 %).
Croatia, Poland, Greece, Lithuania and Romania all recorded rates for the daily use of computers among young people that were more than 25 percentage points above the rates for the whole of their adult populations in 2017. By contrast, the differences between the share of young people and the share of the adult population making daily use of a computer were relatively small (less than five points) in Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland, while Luxembourg was the only EU Member State where the rate among young people was lower than for the adult population (81 % compared with 82 %).
… while northern and western EU Member States recorded the highest daily use of the internet among young people
In 2019, there were 21 EU Member States where at least 95 % of young people aged 16-29 years used the internet on a daily basis: Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Croatia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland all recorded shares of 98 %. There were only three Member States where the rate of daily internet use among young people was below 90 %: Italy (89 %), Bulgaria (87 %) and Romania (86 %).
Daily use of the internet in 2019 was consistently higher among young people than it was for the whole adult population in each of the EU Member States. Differences between these two groups were often considerable (see below for more details), although in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland, relatively high shares of the adult population made daily use of the internet, resulting in gaps of less than 10 percentage points when compared with the rates for young people. Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia and Poland recorded the biggest differences in daily use of the internet between young people and the whole adult population, each recording a gap of more than 25 points. Despite relatively low rates of daily internet use (57-71 %) across their whole adult populations, the proportion of young people making daily use of the internet was within a range of 92-98 % for all but two of these six EU Member States; Bulgaria and Romania were the exceptions.
Higher proportions of daily internet users were recorded among people aged 16-24 years and people with a higher level of formal education
Figure 5 shows the proportion of people making daily use of the internet in 2019, by age and by formal educational attainment. A considerably higher proportion of young people in the EU-27 made daily use of the internet with the highest propensity among those aged 16-19 years and 20-24 years. Indeed, 95 % of young people in these two age groups made daily use of the internet in 2019 compared with 93 % among young people aged 25-29 years and 77 % for the whole adult population.
Figure 5 also shows that daily internet use increases — for both the whole adult population and for young people — as a function of people’s level of formal educational attainment. The proportion of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 with a low level of formal education making daily use of the internet was 92 % in 2019, considerably higher than the proportion for the whole adult population with no or a low level of formal education (60 %). Among young people with a medium level of formal education this share reached 95 %, again considerably higher than for the corresponding share for the whole adult population (77 %). Finally, some 97 % 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 adult population (93 %).
Figure 6 shows that in 2019 almost three quarters (73 %) of the EU-27 adult 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, while the corresponding share among young people aged 16-29 years stood at 93 %.
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 adult population as a whole, the proportion of people in the EU-27 that used a mobile phone to connect to the internet away from home or work was 32 percentage points higher than the proportion who used a portable computer in this way (71 % compared with 39 %) in 2019. For young people, this difference was even greater, as 92 % made use of mobile phones to access the internet away from home or work, which was 40 points higher than the share that used a portable computer in this way (52 %). This pattern reinforces the view that a higher proportion of young people in the EU-27 use handheld devices — mainly mobile phones — to connect to the internet while on the move, rather than portable computers.
In all but three of the EU Member States, more than 9 out of 10 young people used a mobile device to connect to the internet on the move
Data on the use of mobile devices to connect to the internet when away from home or work in 2019 shows that these were used by more than 9 out of 10 young people aged 16-29 years in the vast majority of EU Member States (see Figure 7). The only exceptions were Bulgaria, Poland (both 89 %) and most notably Italy (76 %); note that each of these three Member States 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 adult 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 Greece, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, Croatia and Italy, and the smallest in Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg.
Figure 8 shows how the use of mobile devices to connect to the internet developed during the most recent five year period for which data are available. Between 2014 and 2019, the share of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 who used mobile devices to access the internet away from home or work rose from 78 % to 93 %. Among the EU Member States, the largest increase (in percentage points terms) was recorded in Romania, where the share of young people who used mobile devices to access the internet away from home or work increased by 42 points (note that there is a break in series). There were also relatively large increases recorded in Bulgaria (35 points), Czechia (26 points) and Greece (25 points).
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 information presented here shows that young people report, on average, a higher level of computer skills and internet skills than the adult 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 adult population
In 2019, four fifths (81 %) of all young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 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 slightly lower shares had transferred files between a computer and another device (77 %) or installed software or applications (75 %). 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 (60 %), or those that used a spreadsheet (53 %). The proportion of young people that reported having carried out these basic computing tasks was 20-26 percentage points higher than the proportion for the whole adult population, with the exception of using spreadsheets and making changes to the settings of software / operating systems or security programs (where the difference was lower, at 15 and 14 points).
More technical competences, such as writing code in a programming language, were much less widespread as just 13 % of young people in the EU-27 reported that they had ever carried out such an activity, although this was more than double the 6 % share that was recorded for the adult population as a whole (see Figure 9).
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 2019, from 27 % in Denmark to just 2 % in Bulgaria and Romania (see Figure 10). Aside from Denmark, there were four other EU Member States where at least once fifth of young people reported having written code in a programming language: Croatia, Portugal, the Netherlands and Finland. The difference between the shares of young people and the whole adult population with this particular skill reached 16 points in Croatia, followed by Portugal (15 points), Denmark (13 points), France (11 points), Estonia, the Netherlands and Finland (all 10 points). By contrast, in Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania the difference was less than 5 points.
Figure 11 shows how the share of young people who had written code in a programming language developed between 2015 and 2019. During this period, the share of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 who had written code in a programming language rose by a modest amount from 11 % to 13 %. Nevertheless, this was at a faster pace than for the whole adult population, where the share of people writing code increased by a single percentage point from 5 % to 6 % during the period under consideration. Among the EU Member States, the share of young people that had written code in a programming language increased by at least five percentage points in the Netherlands, France, Latvia (note that there is a break in series) and Finland. By contrast, the share of young people that had written code in a programming language fell in seven of the Member States, with the largest decreases in Greece (11 points), Luxembourg (6 points; note that there is a break in series) and Croatia (5 points).
Youth online: a way of life
In 2019, a high proportion of young people in the EU-27 made use of the internet for a range of activities that take-up an increasing share of their daily lives (see Figure 12). The most common online social activities for young people in the EU-27 in the three-month period prior to the 2019 survey included sending and receiving e-mails (88 %), watching internet streamed TV or video (85 %; 2018 data), and participating in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (84 %). By contrast, a much lower share of young people aged 16-29 years played or downloaded games online (51 %; 2018 data).
A comparison between the proportion of young people and the proportion of the whole adult population engaged in online social activities across the EU-27 in 2019 shows that the largest difference between these two groups was recorded for listening to music (a difference of 32 percentage points) and participating in social networks (30 points). By contrast, although young people were more likely than the whole adult population to send/receive e-mails, the gap was narrower, at 15 points.
A much higher proportion of young people (than the whole adult population) made use of social networks
Figure 13 provides more detailed information by EU Member State concerning participation on social networking sites in 2019. In 13 of the Member States, at least 9 out of 10 young people used social networking sites, while a further 12 Member States reported that 80-89 % of young people participated in these activities. At the other end of the scale, 72 % of young people participated on social networking sites in France and 71 % in Italy.
Young people were much more likely to participate on social networking sites than the adult population as a whole. This pattern was observed in 2019 in the EU-27 as a whole (where the difference was 30 percentage points) and was also observed in each of the EU Member States, with the gap reaching at least 35 points in Croatia, Poland, Czechia, Germany, Austria and Portugal.
Figure 14 shows how the share of young people who participated on social networking sites developed between 2014 and 2019. Over this period, the proportion of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 who participated on such sites rose by a modest amount from 81 % to 84 %. By contrast, the share of the adult population that participated on social networking sites rose by 10 percentage points during the same period.
There were four EU Member States where the share of young people aged 16-29 years participating on social networking sites rose by at least 10 percentage points before 2014 and 2019: Romania, Croatia, Greece and Poland. In the Netherlands there was no change between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion of young people making use of social networks, while five Member States recorded lower participation rates among young people in 2019 than in 2014: France, Italy, Luxembourg (note that there is a break in series), Finland and Sweden (note that there is a break in series).
A slightly higher proportion of young people (than the whole adult population) carried out civic activities online
Among the online civic activities presented in Figure 15, the most common for young people aged 16-29 years were related to online interaction with public authorities and obtaining information from websites of public authorities (57 % and 48 % in the 12-month period prior to the 2019 survey). A much lower share of young people in the EU-27 posted their opinions on civic or political issues via websites or took part in online consultations/voted to define civic or political issues (15 % and 12 % in the three-month period prior to the 2019 survey).
The proportion of young adults using the internet for civic activities was only marginally higher than the share recorded for the whole adult population. The gap between participation rates for these two age groups was 4 percentage points in favour of young people for those interacting with public authorities, obtaining information from public authority websites and posting opinions on civic or political issues via websites. For the remaining civic activities that are covered in Figure 15, the gaps were even smaller (1-3 points difference in favour of young people).
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 16. Young people generally use the internet more than the whole adult population for finding information. Indeed, this was the case for each of the four selected activities for which data are shown. More than three quarters (77 %) of all young people in the EU-27 used the internet for finding information about goods and services, while 70 % used the internet to read online news sites, newspapers or magazines. Lower shares of young people used the internet to seek health information (57 %) or for learning activities (42 %).
The difference between the proportion of young people and the whole adult population in the EU-27 using the internet for learning activities was 21 percentage points in 2019. By contrast, the gap was much closer when considering the proportion of people using the internet to seek health information, as the share for young people was four points higher than the share for the whole adult population.
Young people were almost twice as likely (as the adult population) to use the internet to look for a job or to submit a job application
The share of young adults aged 16-24 years in the EU-27 using the internet to work from home was 4 % in 2018; this was 10 percentage points lower than the share for the whole of the adult population (14 %). Note that this indicator is presented as a share of each subpopulation and that a high proportion of 16-24 year olds are not in work (even if they are considered within the denominator for the calculation of this indicator).
In 2019, the share of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU-27 using the internet to make an appointment with a (medical) practitioner (17 %) was comparable to the share recorded for the whole adult population (18 %); it should however be noted that as young people tend to be in better health, they may be expected to require fewer such appointments. By contrast, a somewhat higher share of young people made use of the internet for each of the remaining activities covered in Figure 17. The difference in shares for these two age groups was relatively small for selling goods or services (3 percentage points higher for young people), for internet banking (4 points higher) and for participating in professional networks (5 points higher; 2017 data). However, there was a much wider gap when considering making use of the internet for job search or sending an application (29 % of young people did so compared with 16 % for the whole of the adult population).
In 2019, 59 % of young people aged 16-29 years in Finland and at least half of this age group in Denmark and Sweden made use of the internet for job search or sending an application (see Figure 18). These shares were considerably higher than in any other EU Member State, as Estonia (41 %) had the next highest share. At the other end of the range, less than one in five young people used the internet for job search or sending an application in Poland, Bulgaria and Czechia, with the lowest share in Romania (10 %).
As noted above, young people in the EU-27 were far more likely to use the internet for job search or sending an application than the adult population as a whole (there was a gap of 13 percentage points between their respective shares in 2019). This pattern was repeated across each of the EU Member States. In Finland, the share of young people using the internet for job search or sending an application was 27 points higher than for the whole adult population, while gaps of at least 20 points were also recorded in Malta, Estonia, Portugal and Sweden.
The proportion of young people aged 16-29 years selling goods or services online varied greatly between the EU Member States in 2019 (see Figure 19). Hardly any young people made online sales in Greece (3 %), while the proportion remained below 10 % in Cyprus and Romania. In just over half (14) of the EU Member States the proportion of young people using the internet to sell goods or services was at least one fifth, reaching 34 % in the Netherlands and peaking at 49 % in Malta. The proportion of young people selling goods or services online exceeded the share for the whole adult population in the majority of Member States, most notably in Malta and Estonia. By contrast, the share of young people selling goods or services online was the same as for the whole adult population in Germany, Finland and Sweden (2018 data) and was below the share for the whole adult population in the Netherlands and Denmark.
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, the use of online media by young people 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 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 studied 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 adult 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 indicators 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 was one of the seven flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It outlined policies and actions aimed at maximising the benefit of the digital era to all sections of society and the economy. The agenda focused 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.
In 2015, the European Commission launched A digital single market strategy for Europe (COM(2015) 192 final), which had a number of legislative proposals, including: boosting e-commerce, copyright, ePrivacy, the harmonisation of digital rights and cybersecurity.
In her agenda for Europe, the President of the European Commission outlined a set of priorities for the period 2019-2024. One of these concerns ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’. In February 2020, the European Commission adopted a Communication on Shaping Europe’s digital future (COM(2020) 67 final), which highlights the opportunities that exist around developing new technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G networks, or exploiting a wealth of potential information from big data. Alongside encouraging businesses to work on developing these new technologies, the strategy also ensures that any new developments are made while ensuring the trust of European citizens (trustworthy technologies, fostering an open and democratic society, enabling a vibrant and sustainable economy, helping to combat climate change and promote a green transition).
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, was based 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, the United Kingdom, 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 (https://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.
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (t_isoc_i)
- Digital skills (t_isoc_sk)
- 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 — 2018 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
- European Commission Communication (COM(2020) 67 final), of 19 February 2020 Shaping Europe’s digital future
- 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.