How many people use the Internet?

Do children count in global internet user statistics?

A friend asked about a Statista article, and whether children were included in global estimates of individual internet usage. Internet usage was one indicator of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, of developing global partnerships — as countries develop and benefit from new technologies.

This article looks at how individual internet usage is estimated.

Behind the wall

A major problem with Statista is that users must pay in order to see basic information, such as the data source and which organisation published the figures. This is poor practice.

In some Statista articles, data is presented without important context. One example would be the BARB estimates of quarterly reach by the BBC News channel. This is shown by Statista without reference to the decline in viewers of Sky News — another major 24-hours news channel.

In the Statista article on global internet users, there is apparent contradiction, claiming:

Almost 4.48 billion people were active internet users as of October 2019, encompassing 58 percent of the global population.

Four sentences later:

The global online penetration rate is 57 percent, with North America and Northern Europe both ranking first with a 95 percent internet penetration rate among the population.

Which is it: 57% or 58%?


Without registering or paying, it is difficult to resolve this matter. We should look to a different data source.

The International Telecommunications Union publishes estimates on household and usage of the internet. The ITU provisional estimate for 2019 is that 53.6% of individuals used the internet — around 4.1 billion people.

This is somewhat lower than the 4.5bn estimate on Statista. (Image: ITU)

There are two questions:

  • Usage: how recently do you need to use the internet to be an ‘internet user’?
  • Individual: what ages are considered part of the internet-using population?

The answers differ between countries.

The suggested usage period is the last three months. The ITU manual states:

For individuals, the suggested age scope is 5 years old and above. Some countries, such as Korea or the United States have used a minimum scope of 3 years old. There is no maximum age scope recommended.

The Office for National Statistics looks at ‘recent internet usage’ in the last three months, for those aged 16 or over. 91% of all adults were recent internet users in 2019, with estimates derived from the Labour Force Survey.

Internet usage is lowest in the age group of those aged 75 and over. (Image: ONS)

ITU uses the proportion of UK adults aged between 16 and 74 who recently accessed the internet for its country indicators.

Children are generally not included in estimates of internet usage — though the definition of children differs between countries, limiting international comparability. These children are still part of the population, so are classed as internet non-users.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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