There has been a steady increase in internet use over the past five years among the 19 emerging and developing economies surveyed. Between 2013 and 2014, a median of 42% across these countries said they accessed the internet at least occasionally or owned a smartphone. By 2017, a median of 64% was online.
Meanwhile, internet use among the 17 advanced economies surveyed has remained relatively flat, with a median of 87% across these nations using the internet at least occasionally in 2017, similar to the 86% who said this in 2015 or 2016.
A similar story is seen in smartphone use. In 2013-14, about a quarter of people in emerging and developing economies reported owning a smartphone, i.e., a mobile phone that can access the internet and apps. By 2017, that share had risen to 42%. Among the advanced economies, 72% report owning a smartphone in 2017, the same rate as in 2015-16.
Social media use has also increased in emerging markets. In 2015-16, roughly four-in-ten adults across the emerging nations surveyed said they used social networking sites. As of 2017, 53% use social media. Over the same period, social media use has been generally level in many of the advanced economies surveyed.
Despite growing internet use and smartphone ownership, the world remains digitally divided. It is still the case, for example, that people in wealthier countries have higher rates of internet use and smartphone ownership. However, among people who use the internet, those in developing countries often turn out to be more likely than their counterparts in advanced economies to network via platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Within countries, too, digital divides persist. Age, education, income, and in some cases gender still differentiating who uses the internet and who does not, who is active on social media and who is inactive.
These are among the major findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 37 countries from Feb. 16 to May 8, 2017, among 40,448 respondents. It also includes analysis from Pew Research Center surveys conducted in the United States among 2,002 people in 2018 and in China among 3,154 people in 2016