6 in 10 People Around the World Now Use the Internet
332 million people came online for the first time in the past year, pushing internet user growth above 7½ percent
As we revealed in our Digital 2021 April Global Statshot Report, more than 60 percent of the world’s total population is now online.
More than 330 million people started using the internet in the past 12 months, taking the total number of global internet users to 4.72 billion by the start of April 2021.
That equates to year-on-year growth of more than 7½ percent, which is faster than the annual growth rate that we reported just 3 months ago in our Digital 2021 Global Overview Report.
However, restrictions related to COVID-19 continue to hamper research into internet adoption around the world.
As a result, it’s possible that actual growth has been even faster than these figures suggest, especially because internet access has become even more important during the pandemic.
But these headlines don’t quite tell the full story of internet use around the world today.
For that, we need to dig a bit deeper into the numbers.
We spend 40 percent of our waking lives online
The latest data from GWI shows that the typical internet user between the ages of 16 and 64 spends close to 7 hours a day online.
If we assume that the average person sleeps for between 7 and 8 hours per day, that means internet users now spend an average of more than 40 percent of their waking lives online.
If we applied the latest average daily internet time of 6 hours and 56 minutes to internet users of all ages in all countries, the data show that human beings spend a formidable amount of time online.
On average, we currently spend more than 32 billion hours (3.7 million years) online every day.
That means we’ll spend close to 12 trillion hours using the internet this year – more than 1.3 billion years of combined human existence.
What’s more, people in developing economies often spend considerably more time online each day than the global average.
For example, in our January reports, we revealed that internet users in the Philippines spend an average of almost 11 hours per day using the internet, while Brazilians, Colombians, and South Africans also spend an average of more than 10 hours per day online.
Mobile phones are now the world’s most frequently used device for internet access, and also account for the majority of our internet time.
GWI’s latest data show that mobile accounts for 3 hours and 36 minutes (52 percent) of the global daily average.
However, that means that other devices such as laptops and desktops still account for 48 percent of the world’s internet time.
So while we may be ‘mobile first’, that doesn’t mean we’re ‘mobile only’.
Internet access still isn’t ubiquitous
While this quarter’s impressive milestone offers cause for optimism, it’s important to remember that roughly 40 percent of the world’s total population remains offline.
More than 90 percent of the populations of Northern America and Northern and Western Europe have internet access today, but that figure drops to fewer than 1 in 4 people in Eastern Africa.
Overall, fewer than 4 in 10 people (37 percent) across Africa currently have internet access.
Roughly 850 million people remain unconnected across the continent as a whole, compared to just over half a billion who do have internet access.
However, Southern Asia is home to the greatest number of people without internet access today, with the latest data suggesting that more than 1.1 billion people across the Indian subcontinent remain unconnected in April 2021.
Internet connectivity has been increasingly steadily in these regions in recent months, but there’s still some way to go before we reach the halfway mark of 50 percent adoption.
More broadly, our analysis shows that a total of more than 3.1 billion around the world people remain ‘unconnected’ in April 2021, with the majority of these people living in developing economies.
At current growth rates, it would take roughly 10 years to connect these ‘next 3 billion’, although it’s unlikely that we’ll ever reach 100 percent adoption.
For example, there will always be some people who prefer to remain “off the grid”, while some people may not be able to use the internet due to factors such as disability.
However, with access to the internet now widely considered to be a basic human right, it’s important that governments, businesses, and NGOs continue to work to improve digital infrastructure and accessibility, and ensure that all those who want to use the internet are able to do so.
But in order to achieve this goal, it’s important to identify who the world’s unconnected populations are.
Mapping the world’s offline populations
Age is a key consideration, with younger people accounting for a significant proportion of unconnected populations.
This is particularly important in the developing world, where internet access depends on more ‘personal’ devices such as mobile phones, and where younger people are less likely to be able to afford the necessary handsets and mobile data plans.
For context, the latest population data from the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that there are more than 1.7 billion people below the age of 13 in the world today, of whom close to 700 million are below the age of 5 (note that these figures are for total population, and do not refer to internet access).
Older generations may also account for a meaningful share of the world’s unconnected.
Around the world, population data shows that there are nearly 470 million people over the age of 70, of whom 150 million are over the age of 80.
However, our analysis of this population data suggests that there are likely still many hundreds of millions of working-age adults around the world that still do not have internet access.
Research also points to a meaningful ‘gender gap’ when it comes to internet adoption.
This gap has been closing in recent years, but various data points indicate that women are still less likely than men to be using the internet today.
GSMA Intelligence’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 revealed that women are 20 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet, although the report’s authors stress that this is down from 27 percent in 2017.
Meanwhile, our analysis of social media user data also reveals that women across developing economies are less likely to have internet access today.
For reference, the latest data indicate that more than 90 percent of the world’s internet users access social media at least once per month, so – while not perfect – social media data can act as a useful proxy for broader digital connectivity (see this video for more insights into using social media data for broader ICT analysis).
Moreover, the data show that – where internet access is relatively balanced between the genders – women are more likely to use social media than men are.
However, around the world, women are currently 25 percent less likely than men to use social media.
Our Digital 2021 Global Overview Report revealed that female users account for just 45.6 percent of the world’s social media users, while more recent data show that there are 300 million more men than women using social media today.
Reassuringly, this ‘digital gender gap’ does appear to be closing, but there’s still plenty more work to be done to ensure that everyone has equal access to internet-powered services and resources.
And therein lies one of the most important points: internet access is not an end in itself, and it’s what people do once they get online that has the greatest impact.
Looking beyond access
Our ongoing research reveals that almost no aspect of our daily lives remains untouched by digital connectivity, and trends suggest that internet-powered technologies will only become more pervasive.
Once again though, connected behaviours vary considerably by geography and by demographic.
You can explore the latest trends in global behaviours in our April Statshot Report via the SlideShare embed below (see here if that’s not working for you), but click here if you’d like to explore locally specific behaviours in more than 240 countries and territories around the world.