Digital society statistics at regional level
Data extracted in March 2021.
Planned article update: September 2022.
At least 95 % of adults were using the internet on a daily basis (in the three months prior to the 2020 survey) in Hovedstaden, Helsinki-Uusimaa and Stockholm — the capital regions of the Nordic Member States.
At least 9 out of every 10 adults living in Hovedstaden, Midtjylland (both Denmark) and Utrecht (the Netherlands) ordered goods or services over the internet for private use (in the 12 months prior to the 2020 survey).
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) affect people’s everyday lives in many ways, at work, studying, in the home and elsewhere — for example, when communicating, keeping abreast of the news, being entertained, interacting with public authorities, paying bills or shopping online. In order to be able to benefit from technological innovations, businesses and individuals depend, at least to some extent, on having fast and reliable internet access (whether fixed or mobile).
Indeed, access to ICTs is considered by many as fundamental for improving productivity levels and the competitiveness of regions. ICTs are credited with delivering greater flexibility in work and educational environments (for example, permitting people to work or study from home or other remote locations), while offering a broad range of options for staying in contact with colleagues, family and friends. As internet and digital technologies continue to transform the world, ICT innovations provide a stream of new business opportunities. It is hoped that this new digital world, the internet of things — which is working its way into many aspects of society — will provide tools that may be applied to a range of European Union (EU) policy objectives in fields as diverse as health, security, climate, transport, energy, or the modernisation of the public sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions have impacted on the use of various digital technologies. Pupils and students have been making increased use of online studying while many in the workforce have experienced a shift towards making greater use of digital technologies while working from home. Away from studying and working, there has also been an increase in the use of digital technologies for communication between people who have been restricted in their movements and limited in the extent to which they can meet up. The pandemic has been accompanied by increased consumption of online services, for example ordering goods and services online or using streaming services. Digital technologies have played a more direct role in the efforts made to counter the spread of COVID-19, for example through test and trace procedures and for the rollout of vaccination programmes.
Household surveys to collect data on ICT usage are usually conducted during the first half of each year (although the precise date at which surveys are conducted varies across EU Member States). In general, data refer to the first quarter of the reference year and often concern activities during the previous 3 or 12 months. Hence, data refer mainly to the situation before the COVID-19 pandemic started. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the fieldwork had to be postponed or extended, and timing of this 3 or 12-month reference period varies across countries. As such, it is likely that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was only partially captured by the 2020 exercise. Note: all of the statistics presented below cover adults aged 16-74 years. Data for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while the latest data available for France concern 2019. As 2020 data for France are not available, the EU aggregates for 2020 have been estimated.
Although the internet is an almost constant part of the lives of many people in the EU, some people are excluded to a greater or lesser extent, resulting in the so-called digital divide. People living in remote regions may be excluded as a lack of investment in infrastructure leads to access and/or performance issues when trying to use the internet; this may result in socially undesirable outcomes. Some other people, particularly within older generations, may not have the necessary e-skills to take full advantage of various services that are provided via the internet. With a growing share of day-to-day tasks being carried out online, the ability to use modern technologies becomes increasingly important to ensure everyone can participate in the digital society. This digital divide is likely to be further challenged in the next few years, as 5G internet services (the fifth generation of cellular network technology) are gradually rolled out.
Four fifths of all adults in the EU made use of the internet on a daily basis
For the ICT survey of households and individuals, an internet user is defined as a person (aged 16-74 years) making use of the internet in whatever way: whether at home, at work, or anywhere else; whether for private or professional purposes; regardless of the device (desktop computer, laptop, netbook or tablet, smartphone, games console or e-book reader) or type of connection being used.
In 2020, some 80 % of the EU’s adult population reported having used the internet on a daily basis during the three months preceding the survey; this figure was 3 percentage points higher than in 2019 and was 29 points higher than a decade before (51 % in 2010).
More than half of the adult population in every region of the EU was making use of the internet on a daily basis
Map 1 shows the regional distribution of daily internet use across NUTS level 2 regions; note again that data for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions. There were widespread disparities between EU regions in terms of daily use of the internet along broad geographical lines. Northern and western regions generally recorded higher levels than southern or eastern regions.
In 2020, the lowest share of adults making daily use of the internet was recorded in the outermost region of La Réunion (France; 51 % in 2019). The second lowest share was in Severozapaden (Bulgaria; 53 %) — the poorest region in the EU, as measured by GDP per inhabitant. At the other end of the range, the highest shares of adults making daily use of the internet were recorded in the three capital regions of the Nordic Member States — Hovedstaden, Helsinki-Uusimaa and Stockholm — where at least 95 % of adults were using the internet on a daily basis. Indeed, across many of the EU Member States it was common to find capital regions and other predominantly urban regions recording some of the highest proportions of adults making daily use of the internet, while more rural or remote regions recorded lower shares. This was clearly seen in most of the eastern Member States, but was also noticeable in the remainder of the EU — for example, in Ireland, Spain, Lithuania and Austria.
An analysis for the EU regions with the highest and lowest shares of daily internet users is presented in Figure 1. Alongside the three capital regions of the Nordic Member States (mentioned above), the regions in the EU with the highest shares of daily internet users in 2020 included four more Nordic regions, Praha (the capital region of Czechia) and three regions in the Netherlands. At the other end of the range, the vast majority of EU regions with the lowest shares of daily internet users were located in Bulgaria, Romania or the outermost regions of France (2019 data).
With the prolific use in modern society of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, the frequency with which people use the internet has grown exponentially. Although it was initially used as a means to exchange information (often in a working environment), the range of activities conducted over the internet has rapidly changed. For example, it is only slightly more than a decade since commercially successful app stores or streaming services were launched.
Participation in social networks
One of the most popular activities on the internet is participation in social networks, for example, using Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok or Twitter. The propensity to make use of such services is closely linked to age. A much higher proportion of younger people use social networks on a regular basis, and young people are also more likely to be early adopters of new apps/services as they seek alternative ways of exchanging text, sound, images, video and other information.
In 2020, close to three fifths (57 %) of the EU’s adult population participated in social networks during the three months prior to the latest survey. The participation rate for young adults aged 16-24 years (87 %) was almost four times as high as the corresponding rate for older people aged 65-74 years (22 %). During the most recent five-year period (2015-2020) for which data are available, there was little or no change in the share of young adults participating in social networks. By contrast, the proportion of older people using social networks nearly doubled during the same period.
Despite relatively low levels of internet access, many eastern regions of the EU recorded high shares of people participating in social networks
In 2020, there were 23 NUTS level 2 regions across the EU where more than three quarters of the adult population participated in social networks (as shown by the darkest shade of orange in Map 2); note again that data for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions. The regions with the highest shares were concentrated in Belgium and Denmark, while a number of other Nordic regions and single regions from each of Spain, Cyprus, Hungary, the Netherlands and Romania also reported that more than three quarters of their adult populations participated in social networks.
Although many would argue that social networks are ubiquitous, there were 10 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where less than 40 % of all adults participated in social networks (as shown by the darkest shade of blue). These 10 regions were exclusively located in France (2019 data); a majority of them were characterised as predominantly rural or outermost regions. Relatively low shares (40-48 %, as shown by the second darkest shade of blue) of adults participated in social networks in each of the southern and island regions of Italy, as well as the northern Italian region of Provincia Autonoma di Trento. They were joined by Sachsen, Brandenburg (in Germany), and Northern and Western (in Ireland), as well as all but two of the remaining French regions (2019 data).
The wide differences in participation rates for social networks may, at least in part, be linked to whether (or not) people are connected to the internet. Relatively low rates of internet access will, by definition, limit the potential use of social networks. Looking back at the data presented in Map 1, this may partly explain the relatively low use of social networks in southern Italy. However, internet access was generally more widespread in northern Italy and much of France and Germany. As such, other factors may be relevant, for example, an ageing population structure in predominantly rural regions, or issues linked to privacy and the willingness of individuals to share their data online. By contrast, despite relatively low levels of internet access, many eastern regions of the EU recorded high shares of people participating in social networks.
Figure 2 shows, in more detail, the NUTS level 2 regions with the highest and lowest shares of people participating in social networks.In 2020, close to 9 out of every 10 adults (86 %) in Prov. Brabant Wallon (Belgium), Hovedstaden (the Danish capital region) and Midtjylland (also in Denmark) made use of social networks during the three months prior to the latest survey; there were several other regions from these two Member States that had high participation rates. Outside of Belgium and Denmark, the only other regions in the EU where more than 80 % of adults participated in social networks were the capital regions of Hungary (Budapest) and Finland (Helsinki-Uusimaa).
In recent years, one of the main developments within the EU’s banking sector has been an expansion of online services. The frequency with which consumers visit their local branch has fallen rapidly, with online transfers and e-payments becoming the norm. Some markets have seen the emergence of internet (or virtual) banks that do not have any physical branches. As such, internet banks eliminate the overheads associated with running local branches and they are often in a better position to offer more competitive services than ‘bricks and mortar’ banks.
In 2020, almost three fifths (58 %) of the EU’s adult population (aged 16-74 years) used the internet for banking during the three months prior to the latest survey. As with most internet activities, there were some quite large differences between age groups concerning the take-up of internet banking. Young people aged 25-34 years were most likely to make use of internet banking (75 %), while the share for older people (aged 65-74 years) was 34 %.
The use of internet banking reflects, to some degree, the availability of broadband internet connections. Nevertheless, an individual’s choice as to whether or not they use the internet for banking often comes down to a matter of trust (which may reflect national characteristics). In 2020, at least 70 % of adults made use of internet banking in every NUTS level 2 region of Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden; note again that data for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions.
The regions where the use of internet banking was below the EU average (as shown by the blue shades in Map 3) were predominantly located in eastern and southern regions of the EU. In 2020, every region of Bulgaria and Romania reported that less than one quarter of all adults made use of internet banking; this was also the case for Calabria in the south of Italy.
More than 19 out of every 20 adults in the Danish capital region of Hovedstaden made use of the internet for banking
Figure 3 provides a more detailed set of information concerning the penetration of online banking. In 2020, Hovedstaden (the capital region of Denmark) had the highest share of people using internet banking (96 %), closely followed by Midtjylland (also Denmark) and Helsinki-Uusimaa (the capital region of Finland), both with shares of 95 %. The remaining regions at the top of the list confirmed that consumers in Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland were highly likely to make use of internet banking.
Although people living in rural regions are more likely to face issues in being able to access a physical branch of their bank, the use made of internet banking was generally lower in rural and remote regions (than it was in urban regions). Some of the lowest usage rates for online banking were recorded in regions characterised by a low level of internet connectivity and/or an older population age structure. For example, just 22 % of adults from the southern Italian region of Calabria made use of internet banking in 2020, while the corresponding share for the central Greek region of Kentriki Ellada (NUTS level 1) was 27 %. However, as noted above, by far the lowest take-up of internet banking in the EU was recorded across the regions of Bulgaria and Romania. This was particularly notable in Severoiztochen (Bulgaria) and in Vest (Romania), where just 5 % and 6 % of all adults used internet banking in 2020. Issues around access to financial services may explain, at least to some degree, these very low figures, as a relatively high number of people in both Bulgaria and Romania do not possess a bank account.
E-commerce makes it easier for consumers to compare different retail offers. It has the potential to reconfigure the geography of consumption, for example, extending consumer choice and reducing prices in remote regions of the EU, while removing the burden of travelling considerable distances to shop for specific items. As for internet banking, an individual’s choice as to whether or not to use e-commerce may in part be related to trust.
The vast majority of retail sales in the EU continue to take place in shops. However, the ability to shop 24 hours a day, coupled with the ease of making electronic payments, is gradually leading to a digital transformation of the EU’s retail space, disrupting many aspects of shopping behaviour. This development is believed to have been reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For statistical purposes, e-commerce is defined as buying goods or services through electronic transactions, including the placing of orders for goods or services over the internet (payment and the ultimate delivery of the goods or service may be conducted either online or offline); orders via manually typed e-mails are excluded.
In 2020, almost two thirds (65 %) of the EU’s adult population reported that they had bought/ordered goods or services over the internet in the 12 months prior to the survey. The propensity to make use of e-commerce — as with many other internet activities — is closely linked to age. For example, people aged 25-34 years were 2.5 times as likely to have made use of the internet to buy/order goods or services (83 %) when compared with people aged 65-74 years (33 %). Note however that this digital divide between the generations is gradually closing.
Map 4 shows that some of the highest shares of people buying/ordering goods or services over the internet were concentrated in Denmark and the Netherlands. In 2020, each of the 17 NUTS level 2 regions that cover these two EU Member States reported that at least 84 % of all adults made use of e-commerce. There were also several regions in Sweden and the northern half of Germany where a very high proportion of the adult population ordered goods or services over the internet (as shown by the darkest shade of orange); note again that data for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions.
In approximately one fifth of the NUTS level 2 regions (42 out of 197 regions for which data are available), less than half of the adult population in 2020 ordered goods or services over the internet (as shown by the two darkest shades of blue). The vast majority of these were located in eastern and southern regions of the EU. The propensity to use e-commerce was particularly low in Bulgaria, Romania and central/southern regions of Italy. This may reflect, at least in part, relatively low levels of internet access/use and relatively high numbers of people not possessing a bank account (thereby making it more difficult to pay online).
Almost one in five adults in the EU reported that they had never made an online purchase
Map 5 shows both the proportion of people using e-commerce and how recently people ordered goods or services over the internet. When surveyed in 2020, more than half (54 %) of all adults in the EU confirmed that they had made an online purchase during the previous three months. Relatively few people made irregular use of e-commerce: 11 % of adults made their last online purchase some 3-12 months before the survey (bringing to 65 % the total for adults having made their last online purchase anytime during the 12 months before the survey) and 5 % made their last online purchase more than a year before. By contrast, the share of adults who reported that they had never made an online purchase was 19 %.
This pattern was repeated in the vast majority (79 out of 91) of NUTS level 1 regions, as the most common response when asked about their most recent online purchase was for people to say that they had made a purchase during the previous three months. There were 13 NUTS level 1 regions where at least three quarters of all adults reported that they had made an online purchase during the previous three months; these regions were located exclusively in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. The highest shares were recorded in Denmark (79 %), Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Oost-Nederland and West-Nederland (all 78 %).
There were 11 regions in the EU for which the most common response was to have never made an online purchase. This was the case in every region of Bulgaria and Romania, in Sud and Isole (Italy), as well as in Kentriki Ellada (Greece), Cyprus and Região Autónoma Da Madeira (Portugal).
In 2020, there were three NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where at least 9 out of every 10 adults ordered goods or services over the internet for private use. These were the Danish regions of Hovedstaden (91 %) and Midtjylland (90 %) and the Dutch region of Utrecht (90 %). A high share of the adult population made use of e-commerce in the three remaining Danish regions and in two more regions of the Netherlands, as well as in Praha and Stockholm — the capital regions of Czechia and Sweden.
At the other end of the range, there were 10 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where less than one third of all adults reported in 2020 that they had made an online purchase during the previous 12 months. These regions were exclusively located in Bulgaria, southern Italy or Romania. Severen tsentralen in Bulgaria (25 %) had the lowest share in the EU.
Source data for figures and maps
European ICT surveys aim to provide timely statistics on individuals, households and enterprises relating to their use of ICTs. Many of these statistics are used in the benchmarking framework associated with the EU’s digital scoreboard.
Statistics on the use of ICT are based on Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society. This regulation concerns statistics on the use of ICT in enterprises, as well as in households and by individuals — only statistics for households and individuals are presented in this article. Since 2005, European Commission implementing regulations have been passed annually, specifying particular areas of interest for data collection, thereby allowing policymakers to have access to data that aim to measure the impact of new technologies and services in this rapidly changing domain.
The statistical units for regional data on ICTs are the household or the individual. The population of households consists of all households having at least one member in the age group 16-74 years. The population of individuals consists of all individuals aged 16-74 years. Questions on access to ICTs are addressed to households, while questions on the use of ICTs are answered by individuals within the household.
The data in this article are based on an annual Community survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals. The information presented in this article (and the underlying database) are organised according to the survey year. The results presented above refer to individuals’ experiences during the previous 3 or 12 months. Regional statistics on ICT for the EU Member States are generally available for NUTS level 2 regions. However, the latest data for Germany, Greece and Poland are only provided for NUTS level 1 regions; a similar situation exists for Turkey. The latest data available for France concern 2019. As a result, EU aggregates for 2020 have been estimated.
An internet user, in the context of information society statistics in the EU, is defined as a person aged 16-74 years making use of the internet in whatever way:
- whether at home, at work or from anywhere else;
- whether for private or professional purposes;
- regardless of the device or type of connection used.
People participating in social networks refers to people creating user profiles, posting messages or other contributions to websites and applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok or Twitter.
People using internet banking refers to the use of online banking services either through a website or an application.
E-commerce can be defined generally as the sale or purchase of goods or services, whether between businesses, households, individuals or private organisations, through electronic transactions conducted via the internet or other computer-mediated (online communication) networks. The term covers the ordering over computer networks of goods and services, but the payment and the ultimate delivery of the good(s) or service(s) may be conducted either on-line or off-line.
For the Community survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals, e-commerce by individuals or households via the internet is defined more specifically as the placing of orders for goods or services via the internet; orders via manually typed e-mails are excluded. Also included in the definition are:
- buying financial investments — such as shares;
- confirming reservations for accommodation and travel;
- participating in lotteries and betting;
- paying for information services from the internet;
- buying via online auctions.
European Commission priorities
It was followed in September 2016 by a strategy on connectivity for a European gigabit society to stimulate the availability and take-up of very high capacity networks, which included three new objectives to be achieved by 2025:
- access to a 1 gigabits per second (Gbps) service for all schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services and digitally intensive enterprises;
- access to download speeds of at least 100 Mbps to be upgraded to 1 Gbps for all households; and,
- uninterrupted 5G wireless broadband coverage for all urban areas and major roads and railways.
At the end of 2015, the European Commission published a new framework called Monitoring the Digital Economy & Society 2016-2021. This describes a range of policy developments and outlines data requirements for these, with a digital scoreboard introduced to measure progress.
In 2019, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, described how she wanted the EU to grasp the opportunities presented by the digital age. Indeed, ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’ is one of six Commission priorities for the period 2019-2024. Such a digital transformation is based on the premise that digital technologies and solutions should: open up new opportunities for businesses; boost the development of trustworthy technology; foster an open and democratic society; enable a vibrant and sustainable economy; help fight climate change.
With this in mind, during February 2020 the European Commission adopted an overarching presentation of ideas and actions for Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, as well as specific proposals in relation to:
- A European strategy for data (COM(2020) 66 final), which seeks to promote the EU as a leading role model for a society empowered by data to make better decisions — in business and the public sector; and
- a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence — A European approach to excellence and trust (COM(2020) 65 final), which supports a regulatory- and investment-oriented approach with the twin objectives of promoting the uptake of artificial intelligence and addressing the risks associated with certain uses of this new technology.
The recovery plan for Europe
In the European Commission’s proposal for the recovery plan for Europe, it was noted that ‘investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty’. Subsequently the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, which was adopted in December 2020, specifically includes commitments for EUR 6.8 billion for the Digital Europe Programme.
However, the centrepiece of the recovery plan is a new Recovery and Resilience Facility with a budget of EUR 672.5 billion, of which the majority relates to loans and the remainder to grants. The emergency European Recovery Instrument (also known as Next Generation EU), which complements the regular 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework, is the basis of funding for the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Among other aims, the facility will support digital transitions. It will be available to all EU Member States but support will be concentrated in the parts of the EU most affected and where resilience needs are greatest.
Furthermore, the European Commission’s proposals for powering the recovery plan for Europe included a new initiative called Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU). As for the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the emergency European Recovery Instrument is the basis for the funding of REACT-EU. The purpose of this instrument is to increase cohesion support to EU Member States to make their economies more resilient and sustainable in the crisis repair phase. This is intended to help to bridge the gap between first response measures (such as the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative) and longer-term recovery. Funding will support key crisis repair actions in the most important sectors for a green, digital and resilient recovery. REACT-EU has a budget of EUR 47.5 billion to facilitate decisive responses to the most urgent challenges.
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (t_isoc_i)
- Regional ICT statistics (t_isoc_reg)
- Regional digital economy and society (t_reg_isoc)
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (isoc_i)
- Internet use (isoc_iiu)
- Individuals - frequency of internet use (isoc_ci_ifp_fu)
- Individuals - internet activities (isoc_ci_ac_i)
- E-commerce (isoc_iec)
- Internet purchases by individuals (2020 onwards) (isoc_ec_ib20)
- Regional ICT statistics (isoc_reg)
- Individuals who used the internet, frequency of use and activities (isoc_r_iuse_i)
- Individuals who ordered goods or services over the internet for private use (isoc_r_blt12_i)
- Internet use (isoc_iiu)
- Regional digital economy and society (reg_isoc)
Manuals and further methodological information
- Methodological manuals for statistics on the information society
- Methodological manual on territorial typologies — Eurostat — 2018 edition
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (ESMS metadata file — isoc_i_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 of 21 April 2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society
- Summary of EU legislation: Statistics on the information society
- Regulation (EC) No 1006/2009 of 16 September 2009 amending Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society