The 15 Countries Where The Most Young People Are Online

“Digital natives” might not be where you’d expect.

What did children do before computers? If the future goes the way of babies with iPads, it’s a question we might be asking ourselves soon. But if you’re between 15 and 24 years old and live in the United States, there’s already a good chance you grew up playing around with MS Paint. According to a new report out from the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), growing up with the Internet qualifies you as a “digital native,” and some countries have a far higher proportion of them than others.


The results, however, might surprise you.

Source: ITU

Out of a global population of 7 billion, 363 million of us have grown up “surrounded by and using tools and toys of the digital age.” China and India boast the largest number of these people, but digital natives only make up a relative minority of their respective populations. When it comes to countries with the highest percentages of digital natives, the United States actually comes in sixth place, below Lithuania and Malaysia.

Iceland, however, ranks number one in digital native penetration, with 14% of the Icelandic population having grown up on computers. That makes sense, given that Iceland has the highest percentage of young people in Europe (and a small population). New Zealand makes number two on the list for the same reason. South Korea, meanwhile, ranks third largely because of high Internet use among all youth and its government’s aggressive investment in educational technology: By 2015, all Korean schools will provide cloud-based learning services to students.

Malaysia comes in fourth place on the list, and for striking reasons. Unlike Iceland or New Zealand, Malaysia doesn’t have a particularly high concentration of 15-to-24 year-olds. But like South Korea, the young people who do live in Malaysia have spent more time with the Internet: By 2012, 74.4% of youths had at least five years of Internet experience under their belts. Much of that, explains the report, can be attributed to the fact that the Malaysia has brought so many of its schools online, and by 2000 had already stocked 31% of its primary schools and 54% of its secondary schools with computer facilities.

Absolute numbers of digital natives by country. Source: ITU

Starting in January of this year, Malaysian 21-to-30-year-olds have been able to score $65 rebates on certain smartphones, courtesy of government subsidies. The country’s National Broadband Initiative has set about dramatically lowering costs of accessing the Internet, including launching the 1 Million Netbooks program, which distributes netbooks to low-income families.

The report notes that proportions of digital natives largely stick to levels of economic development. In high-income, developed countries, digital natives with five years of Internet experience or more make up 86% of young Internet users, while in the developing world, digital natives only count as 47% of young Internet users. The global average comes to slightly more: Digital natives make up 56% of all young Internet users–more than 362 million people worldwide.


About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data