Nordic Countries Dominate the World in Internet Penetration

March 21, 2012
By

(This article was first published on Graph of the Week, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

The number of internet users in the Nordic countries has greatly outpaced the world by comparison. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland - all in the elite echelon. These countries share a common ancestry - the 'Vikings' or the Norse peoples - we've all read about in history classes and seen dramatized in the movies. Honor and battle were highly emphasized; fallen warriors were thought to be sent to Valhalla shared with the Norse gods such as Odin and Thor.

These are Vikings, after all...

Do those aggressive tendencies exist today? Apparently not. Although these countries are as tough as the next guy, most of them attempted to stay neutral during WWII (Norway excepted) to avoid civilian casualties. Today, the Nordic countries are peaceful, yet quite advanced technologically. It's possible that the Viking spirit is alive and well, manifesting itself along the electronic frontier. However, there are many countries that would fit that description (Russia, for example), but have yet to establish the same level of internet penetration as their Nordic counterparts.

Taxation

What else do they have in common? High tax rates, for starters. Perhaps all of that money was used to build the infrastructure to enable this kind of technological leap. While there is some truth to that, there are several other countries with high tax rates that have yet to attain the same levels identified above (Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic and Poland, for example).  How high are the tax rates?  Click here for a list. If you live in the United States, maybe it doesn't seem so high anymore.

Democracy Index

After some intense research, we found a relationship between internet usage and the democracy index. Although democracy has eroded in some countries (like the United States), there is an undeniable link between that and a country's internet usage. How much of a link? We need to dive into a bit of statistics for a brief explanation. There is a measurement called the Coefficient of Determination that can be used to see if there is a link between two variables.  It can range from -1 to 1 such that, either a -1 or 1 fits the data perfectly (negatively or positively) while a 0 indicates no relationship at all.

When we look at this coefficient here (for the statisticians: using linear regression, Pearson method), it computes as 0.41. Which, in basic terms means that 41% of a country's internet penetration can be explained by its democracy index. Evidently, when people aren't repressed, they tend to want technological advancements (not surprise there). Authoritarian regimes, however, do not want their citizens sniffing freedom, so do everything in their power to keep technologies like the internet repressed (and filtered). This can be quickly grasped by viewing the chart below:

 Authoritarian regimes aren't good for the internet.

Interestingly, not all countries follow this pattern. What gives?

Culture Club

Some countries have a high democracy index, yet their citizens do not use the internet much by comparison. Obviously, other factors are at play here. The first item that comes to mind is culture. Not everybody cares about being "plugged in." Take Costa Rica, for example: the universal greeting there is something akin to "Pura Vida,", which means "this is living!" In countries such as this, maybe sitting at a computer looks pretty lame when surrounded by lush vegetation and beaches. Conversely, the internet would provide a welcome relief from the dark and depressing winter of the Nordic countries.

Growing Pains

Another reason that some high-democracy, low-internet countries exist may be because they have only recently began to experience gains in technology. Consider Botswana who gained independence from Britain in 1966. Given that they were extremely poor when they gained their freedom, it will take a significant amount of time before the necessary framework can be installed to allow for sophisticated technologies such as the internet to thrive. That being said, this is a country to watch along this sector. They could become Africa's leaders sooner rather than later given their high democracy rating.

Conclusion

When considering a worldwide phenomenon such as internet penetration, many variables exist to explain it. Occasionally, a significant factor can be found through research; in this case, it is the democracy index. It certainly seems that although freedom bears many fruits, one particularly tasty treat exists in the form of technological advancement. While other factors such as culture and history must also be considered, one cannot deny that a link exists here as explained above. The Nordic countries certainly have led the internet charge into the 21st century. For other countries considering advances in the same area, it would be prudent for them to study this region.

Questions:
1) Will the world become more or less free as time marches on?
2) How long before the 'democratized' countries have 100% internet penetration?
3) Will we ever see a time when there are no authoritarian regimes?

Data:
http://databank.worldbank.org

Code:
These graphs were generated using the 'ggplot2' package within the R programming language:
1st graph:ggplot(subset(gdp.melt.frame, Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),         aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value)) + geom_boxplot() + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Denmark" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Denmark")) + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Finland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Finland")) + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Iceland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Iceland")) + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Norway" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Norway")) + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Sweden" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Sweden")) + geom_point(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "United States" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="United States")) +   geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Denmark" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Denmark", group=1), size=1.1) + geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Finland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Finland", group=1), size=1.1) + geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Iceland" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Iceland", group=1), size=1.1) + geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Norway" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Norway", group=1), size=1.1) + geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "Sweden" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="Sweden", group=1), size=1.1) + geom_line(data=subset(gdp.melt.frame, Country.Name == "United States" & Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)"),  aes(x=substr(variable,2,5), y=value, color="United States", group=1), size=1.1) +   ylab("Internet Users (per 100 people)") + xlab("Year") +   opts(title="Nordic Countries Growth of Internet Users",   legend.title = theme_blank(),   panel.background = theme_blank()2nd graph:ggplot(subset(gdp.melt.frame, Indicator.Name == "Internet users (per 100 people)" & variable == "X2010"), aes(x=Index, y=value, label=Country.Name)) +  geom_point(size=0.5, colour='dark grey') +  geom_smooth(size=1.1, method="lm", na.rm=FALSE) +  geom_text(size=2.5, angle=0, colour='black', hjust=.5) +  ylab("Internet Users (per 100 people)") +  xlab("Democracy Index") +  opts(title="2010 Internet Penetration by Democracy Index",    legend.title = theme_blank(),    panel.background = theme_blank())

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