Being young in Europe today - digital world
Data extracted in April 2022.
Planned article update: May 2023.
In 2021, 95 % of young people in the EU made daily use of the internet, compared with 80 % for the whole population.
In 2021, 71% of young Europeans reported having at least basic digital skills.
In 2021, at EU level 17 % of young males and 8 % of young females wrote code in a programming language.
Between 2019 and 2021 the share of young people in the EU who did an online course increased 2.6 times from 13 % to 34 %.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become an integral part of people’s everyday lives. A large proportion of the population of the European Union (EU), particularly young people now use the internet to perform a variety of activities in the framework of their work, education, leisure, administration and other domains.
A digital age gap
Northern and western EU Member States recorded the highest daily use of the internet among young people
In 2021, 95 % of young people aged 16-29 years in the EU reported using the internet every day compared to 80 % of the whole adult population. In 21 EU Member States, the share was at least 95 %. The lowest shares of daily internet use among young people were recorded in Bulgaria and France at 91 %.
While young people reported very high shares of daily internet use in every country, Figure 1 shows that there is a much greater variation among the adult users. On average in the EU, the difference between the share of young people and adults using the internet every day is 15 percentage points (p.p.). However, differing patterns can be seen. Daily internet use was high among both young people and adults in Finland, Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Slovenia with a digital age gap not exceeding 10 p.p. Other countries also reported high shares of daily internet use among young people but a considerably wider gap with adults in Greece (26 p.p.), Romania, Bulgaria (both 24 p.p.), Portugal and Poland (both 23 p.p.).
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries have high rates of internet use of above 90 % both for the adult population and for young people with both groups being above the EU average in each of the countries and a low digital age gap of maximum 7 p.p. in Switzerland. For candidate countries, the share of young people using the internet ranges from 93 % in Turkey to 99 % in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although the internet can provide a place for young people to share their experiences and to exchange their views, there are also risks. It is equally important to address safety concerns and to enable young people to analyse, compare and critically evaluate the credibility and reliability of sources of data, information and digital content.
Despite the high number of young people using internet, only 36%, at EU level, engage in activities related to fact-checking online information and its sources. Only in five countries, is the share of young people who assess the truthfulness of the internet content above 50 % (the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden). The lowest shares are recorded in Bulgaria (24 %), Lithuania (22 %), Romania (21 %) and Cyprus (18 %).
The share of young people fact-checking their internet sources is higher than the EU average in Norway and Iceland.
Information and communications technology (ICT) skills are regarded as being essential to benefit from and contribute to a knowledge-based economy and society. 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. In this context, it is important that young people become empowered and responsible digital users, equipped with appropriate digital skills.
Map 1 highlights the share of young people between the age of 16 and 29 reporting basic or above basic overall digital skills in 2021. Country shares range from 93 % in Finland, 92 % in Malta, 89 % in Croatia and 87 % in Greece and the Netherlands to 49 % and 46 % in Bulgaria and Romania, respectively. The EU average stands at 71 %.
In 2021, at EU level there was no major difference based on sex in the digital skills reported by young people. However, if we look at Member State level the situation is diverse: in nine countries, the share of young females with at least basic digital skill is at least 5 p.p. over the corresponding share of young male. The largest gap in favour of young females is registered in Croatia where 94 % of young females compared with only 84 % of young males have at least basic digital skills. The opposite situation can be seen in four other Member States where the share of young male with at least basic digital skills is higher by more than 5 p.p. (Luxembourg, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia). For EFTA (European Free Trade Association) countries the shares of the digital skills between young males and young females are rather close, while a larger advantage can be seen for young males in Montenegro and North Macedonia.
Overall, digital skills refer to five areas: information and data literacy skills, communication and collaboration skills, digital content creation skills, safety skills and problem-solving skills. To have at least basic overall digital skills, people must know how to do at least one activity related to each area.
Taking examples from these domains, some of the activities used to measure digital skills are analysed in more detail below (further information on the types of activities related to each skill is available in the metadata file). Notably:
- Participating in social networks (communication and collaboration)
- Writing code in a programming language (digital content creation)
- Using the internet for interacting with public authorities (communication and collaboration)
- Using the internet for doing an online course (problem solving)
- Using the internet for job search and sending a job application (problem solving)
Social networks play a major role in the communication and collaboration of young people
In 2021, a high proportion of young people in the EU made use of the internet for a range of activities that take up an increasing share of their daily lives. A comparison between the proportion of young people and the proportion of the whole adult population engaged in online activities across the EU in 2021 shows that the largest difference between these two groups was recorded for participating in social networks (26 p.p.). Figure 4 provides more detailed information by EU Member State concerning participation in social networking in 2021. In 14 of the Member States, at least 9 out of 10 young people used social networking sites, while a further 10 Member States reported that 80-89 % of young people participated in these kind of networking activities. At the other end of the scale, 69 % of young people participated in social networking in France and 76 % in Germany. Young people were much more likely to participate in social networking activities online than the adult population as a whole. This pattern was observed in the EU as a whole (where the difference was 26 p.p.) and was also observed in each of the EU Member States, with the gap reaching at least 30 p.p. in Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Poland and Austria.
Each of the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) countries had a larger share of people using social networking sites than the EU average, both for the adult population and for young people. The same is true for the candidate countries except for young people in Turkey (81 p.p.).
The share of young people who had written computer-programming code was twice as high as the share for the whole adult population
In 2021, almost four fifths (76 %) of all young people aged 16-29 years in the EU 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 downloaded or installed software or applications (70 %).
More technical competences, such as writing code in a programming language, were much less widespread, as just 13 % of young people in the EU 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.
Figure 5 shows the differences between males and females. At EU level, 17 % of males and 8 % of females have written code in a programming language. When it comes to females Denmark takes the lead with 17 % of them having done some coding, followed by Malta (13 %) and the Netherlands (12 %). The lowest share of female code writers was recorded in Bulgaria and Romania (each 2 %). The highest share of males writing code in a programming language was observed in Austria at 31 %, followed by Sweden (27 %) and Luxembourg (26 %). In contrast, three countries recorded less than 10 % of males in that category, namely Cyprus (6 %), Romania (3 %) and Bulgaria (2 %).
As regards EFTA countries, each of these is at least at EU average level when it comes to the share of individuals who have written code in a programming language. This is the case for both young males and young females. By contrast, the situation is quite different for the candidate countries. The countries reaching the EU average are Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina for young females (8 %). Albania has the highest share of young males coding in a programming language (17 %) amongst the candidate countries.
Youth online: a way of life
Large discrepancies between Member States regarding online interaction with public authorities
While for participating in social networks and writing code young people seem to be at a considerable advantage compared to the adult population as a whole, in other activities such as interacting with public authorities and seeking health information online, the corresponding gap was much narrower: only 3 p.p.
As shown by Figure 6 young people aged 16 to 29 years were, on average, more likely to interact online with public authorities than the total population.
Six EU countries recorded at least 90 % of the young population using the internet for interacting with public authorities. These were (in increasing order of percentage) Latvia, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Finland. By contrast, the lowest shares were observed in Italy, Bulgaria and Romania. In 20 Member States, young people were more likely to use the internet for that purpose than the total population with the largest difference recorded in Malta at 19 p.p. Four EU countries showed no difference between the adult and young population. However, for four countries (Romania, France, Italy and Luxembourg) there is a higher percentage of adults using the internet when interacting with public authorities than young people.
As regards EFTA countries, more than 80 % of adults and young people used the internet for interacting with public authorities in 2021, which was well above the EU average. Among the candidate countries, Turkey had the largest share of both adults and young people interacting with public authorities via the internet at 59 % and 76 %, respectively. All other candidate countries were below the EU average.
Online job search and education on the rise
As a clear example of how the internet and the related digital skills influence our lives, we can increasingly witness activities linked to education and job search moving online.
In 2021, 60 % of young people aged 16-29 years in Finland and 52 % of this age group in Denmark made use of the internet for job search or sending a job application (see Figure 7). All other Member States had shares below 50 %. At the other end of the range, less than one in five young people used the internet for a job search or sending an application in Germany, Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland and Romania, which had the lowest share at 11 %.
Young people in the EU were far more likely to use the internet for job search or sending an application than the total population (there was a gap of 12 p.p. between their respective shares in 2021). 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 26 p.p. higher than for the whole adult population, while gaps of at least 20 p.p. were also recorded in Ireland and Sweden.
As regards EFTA countries, all of them had higher rates of people using the internet for job search or sending an application than the EU average, both for adults and young people. As far as candidate countries are concerned, only Montenegro saw a higher share of adults and young people using the internet for job search than the EU average.
Figure 8 shows the shares of adults and young people using the internet for an online course in 2021. In all EU Member States, the young population is more likely to follow an online course than the rest of the population, the largest gaps being noted in Malta (32 p.p.) and Greece (39 p.p.). By contrast, gaps of less than 10 p.p. were observed in five countries, namely Hungary, Denmark, Slovakia, Sweden and Ireland where the lowest difference was recorded at 3 p.p.
The country with the highest share of young people following online courses was the Netherlands (69 %), followed by Greece (63 %) and Slovenia (60 %). Three more Member States had shares of more than 50 %. However, less than a quarter of young people had followed an online course in 2021 in Bulgaria, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania where the lowest share was observed at 18 %.
Among the EFTA members, Iceland had the highest share of young people following an online course in 2021 (52 %) whereas Norway had the lowest rate at 27 %, below EU average. As regards candidate countries, none of them reached the EU average neither for adults nor for young people. The largest share of young people using the internet for doing an online course was recorded in Montenegro (29 %) whereas Albania saw the lowest share (8 %).
There was a significant increase between the share of young people who used the internet for an online course in 2019 and 2021, as shown by Figure 9. In all EU Member States that share rose between 13 p.p. and 55 p.p. The largest increase took place in Slovenia (55 p.p.), followed by Greece (53 p.p.) and the Netherlands (52 p.p.): the only countries seeing a rise of more than 50 p.p. By contrast, there were eight EU countries with an increase of less than 15 p.p., namely Sweden, Denmark, Slovakia, Poland (all 14 p.p.), Hungary, Romania (both 13 p.p.), Germany (12 p.p.) and Lithuania (11 p.p.).
As regards EFTA countries, the biggest rise was observed in Switzerland (26 p.p.), whereas Norway saw only a moderate increase of 8 p.p. The candidate countries experienced relatively small increases which were well below the EU average, the largest one being observed in North Macedonia (21 p.p.) and Montenegro (14 p.p.).
It is quite likely that such an increase in the proportion of young people following an online course is related to the Covid19 pandemic.
Conclusions: what future for young people in the digital world?
This article has shown that the use of ICT is widespread among young people and is, in some instances, reaching saturation. Young people generally possess a wider range of ICT skills than the adult population as a whole and it seems likely that this pattern will continue.
The challenge for policymakers within this domain will be to ensure that the social and economic benefits from exploiting ICT is 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. 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.
A EUROPE FIT FOR THE DIGITAL AGE
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).
Digital skills indicators are some of the key performance indicators in the context of the Digital Decade, which sets out the EU’s vision for digital transformation. The Digital Compass sets out an aim for 80% of EU citizens aged 16-74 years old to have at least basic digital skills by 2030.
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 national Safer internet centres. 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.
Direct access to
- 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