4. Users’ sophistication

Diffusion of selected online activities among Internet users in OECD countries, by age and educational attainment, 2016
Internet users performing each activity as a percentage of the respective group

Source: OECD, ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals Database, http://oe.cd/hhind, June 2017. See chapter notes.


Did you know?

In 2016, 70% of Internet users in the OECD were active on social networks, irrespective of their educational attainment.

The types of activities carried out over the Internet vary widely across countries, as a result of different institutional, cultural or economic factors. The breadth of activities performed by each Internet user provides an indicator of user sophistication.

Age and education are among the main factors that explain differences in uptake within countries. Most activities enjoy higher uptake among young people, except e-government and e-banking where the share of elderly users is larger. Education interacts with age in different ways depending on the type of activity undertaken online. Differences in uptake between high and low-education individuals are larger for the elderly for activities such as downloading software and, to a smaller extent, creating online content. However, education differences are more important for young people in all other activities, including e-banking, e-government, cloud services and social networking, selling and purchasing or searching for a job online.

In nearly all countries, the share of online purchasers in 2016 was higher than in 2010. In some countries starting with a lower level of uptake, such as Estonia and Mexico, shares more than doubled. In 2016, 60% of all OECD Internet users made a purchase online, but the proportion of online purchasers among users aged 16-24 was, on average, over 20 percentage points higher than among users aged 55-74.

Over the last few years, ICTs have increasingly contributed to a wider array of learning opportunities through the development of online courses such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). In 2016, over 14% of Internet users aged 16-24 years in the OECD followed an online course, compared with 13% in 2009. However, this proportion varies from less than 3% in the Slovak Republic to 77% in Canada.


Internet users are individuals who have accessed the Internet within the last three months prior to surveying. Different recall periods have been used for some countries (see chapter notes).

Tertiary education refers to ISCED levels 5 or 6 and above. Low or no formal education refers to ISCED levels 0 to 2.

An e-commerce transaction describes the sale or purchase of goods or services conducted over computer networks by methods specifically designed for the purpose of receiving or placing orders (OECD, 2011).

An online course is a course in which some content is delivered electronically via the Internet or other computer-based methods, and/or some teaching is conducted from a remote location through online or electronic tools.

Individuals who purchased online in the last 12 months, by age, 2016
As a percentage of Internet users in each age group

Note: For the United States, the age gap shown in lighter green is reversed. Individuals aged 55-74 have a slightly higher propensity to purchase online than individuals aged 16-24.

Source: OECD, ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals Database, http://oe.cd/hhind and ITU, World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database, June 2017. StatLink contains more data. See chapter notes.


Individuals aged 16-24 who attended an online course, 2009 and 2016
As a percentage of individuals aged 16-24

Source: OECD, ICT Access and Usage by Households and Individuals Database, http://oe.cd/hhind, June 2017. StatLink contains more data. See chapter notes.



Data collection on ICT usage by individuals is uneven across OECD countries, due to differences in frequency and the nature of surveys. In particular, data on the type of activities performed – which are potentially wide and increasing – are often restricted to basic information.

For online purchases, issues of comparability may be linked to several factors. Differences in age limits play a role – data for Japan and the United States refer to all individuals aged 6 and over instead of 16-74 year olds, which might reduce overall rates. Differences in reference periods are also significant – the recall period for Israel is 3 months instead of 12, while no recall period is specified for Chile and the United States. Differences also exist in the definition itself – for New Zealand, only e-purchases accompanied by an online payment are considered). Finally, there are differences in survey methodology (e.g. techniques, time of year, etc.).