Young people in the UK have better access to the internet than they ever have

It was little surprise to see that Ofcom’s latest data shows digital technologies becoming an increasing part of young people’s lives in the UK.

Although the extent to which users as young as five are going online and the means by which they are accessing internet services is very interesting.

In 2014, 87% of UK 5-15 year olds are going online at home – this is up from 84% in 2011. This is of course being driven by mobile devices; 36% of 5-15 year olds are going online at home via mobile phones (up from 14% in 2011) and 42% are doing the same via tablets (up from just 2% in 2011).

But around the globe, young people are the most likely to be disconnected

With such positive data from Ofcom concerning access to the internet for young people, it’s quite easy to become swept up in UK-centric trends (as well as our over-familiarity with neologisms such as ‘digital natives’) and to think the same applies in other markets.

McKinsey’s data about the makeup of the world’s internet non-users is perhaps even more surprising.

This data brings together research from 20 global markets and groups them by the amount of different barriers each respective population has to getting online – be they infrastructural or finance-related etc.

The report doesn’t include the UK, but judging by what we know, our market is likely a ‘Group 5’ low-barrier country alongside Germany, the US, Japan and others.

Looking at the globally unconnected by age, young people (aged 24 and under) account for 42% of those who are yet to go online. This compares to 40% who are middle aged and 18% who are senior.

So why is this the case?

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the data varies from market to market in terms of how young the youngest people surveyed were – meaning that people up to a certain age across respective countries would automatically be considered a non-internet user.

Additionally, populations in developing markets sometimes have far younger populations. The following graph shows just how much the young proportion of non-internet users can vary from country to country.

It is worth taking into consideration the correlation between McKinsey’s digitally developing countries with the most barriers to adoption – for example Ethiopia, Tanzania and Bangladesh – and that they have at least 52% of their young people not going online.


Being able to see these reports side by side, we can get a great overview of the ease of access available to those in digitally developed markets such as the UK, as well as the quite large divide between those markets McKinsey would deem ‘Group 5’ and others with significant barriers across infrastructure, incentive, education and affordability.

While it is important to acknowledge that the majority of global internet non-users are young people, it is also worth bearing in mind that 47% of those who do go online are also under 25.

This also bodes well for the markets whose unconnected are mostly younger, because these users are quick to adopt new technologies as and when they become accessible.

Referring back to Ofcom’s data which shows the speed at which the UK’s young people are coming online via mobile phones and tablets, the growth we can expect in high-barrier markets such as Ethiopia and Bangladesh is likely to be rapid and big as soon as those barriers start to come down.