Jobs and the Future of Work

The top 10 nations for bridging the digital divide

Thierry Geiger
Head, Benchmarking Practice, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Singapore has overtaken Finland to become the most effective user of digital technology in the world, according to the latest Networked Readiness Index (NRI). However, it is European nations that dominate the leader-board, with seven top 10 places this year. Singapore is the sole remaining Asian Tiger following the demotion of Hong Kong and South Korea.

The NRI is part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth. The NRI identifies the capacity of countries to leverage Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), by assessing the overall political and business environment, the level of ICT readiness and usage among the population, businesses and government, as well as the overall impacts of ICTs on the economy and society at large.

The 2015 results, which cover 143 economies, confirm the dominance of advanced economies and the persistence of the multiple-faceted digital divides not only across but also within economies. They reveal the pervasive digital poverty that deprives the neediest from the opportunities offered by ICTs.

Beyond this diagnosis, the 2015 edition of the report provides solutions from leading experts and practitioners to alleviate digital poverty and make the ICT revolution a global reality.

Here is a list of the top 10 economies making the most of the digital age, according to the NRI:


1. Singapore

The city-state’s government has one of the world’s best ranges of online services and e-participation tools and ranks behind only the United Arab Emirates for the impact of information technology on government efficiency. Singapore offers the most conducive business and innovation environment worldwide and the second most digital-ready workforce (2nd, behind Finland.)  With such fertile ground, it is not surprising that digital usage is so widespread: Singapore boasts the highest penetration of mobile broadband subscriptions per capita. Yet Internet uptake is surprisingly low: only three-quarters of the population use the Internet on a regular basis, far lower than leaders Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. This relatively low uptake does not prevent more than half the population being employed in knowledge-intensive jobs, the second highest after Luxembourg.

2. Finland

After two years at the top, Finland slips to second place but ranks ranks best in the world on skills and has an excellent political/business environment and infrastructure. Together with affordable access, these factors have driven widespread use among citizens and businesses. Although it has not yet found ways to fully restructure its large information technology industry, Finland has overtaken Japan as the country with the highest number of patents per capita. The government is re-thinking ways to promote the digital industry and these efforts are expected to stem the deterioration of government online service delivery and e-participation that have lost the country the top spot.

3. Sweden

Sweden’s political and business environment remains one of the best in the world despite a slight decline. Excellent infrastructure, affordable access, and a highly skilled population mean information technology usage is widespread among businesses and the population at large (in 2013, 95 percent of individuals used the Internet regularly.) This activity is reflected in big impacts on the economy and society. Swedish companies are highly innovative in creating new products and services, leaders in patenting ICT-related technology, and almost half of the Swedish workforce is now employed in knowledge-intensive jobs.

4. The Netherlands

The Netherlands scores very well on political and regulatory frameworks, the business and innovation environment, and for infrastructure and skills. However, one challenge remains affordability, where the country ranks 72nd in the world. That has led to low mobile and mobile broadband subscriptions. But individual usage is otherwise broad: the country ranks third for access to personal computers and broadband. The Netherlands has some of the highest levels of business-to-business and business-to-consumer Internet usage and the government remains a leader in granting access to government services online, so making Dutch e-participation the world’s best.

5. Norway

Third among the Nordics, Norway has the best digital infrastructure in the world and Norwegians are second only to Icelanders for access to the Internet (95%.) Norway also scores highly on measures of the impact, with adaptability of the work environment and use of digital in education both ranked third in the world. Almost half of workers are employed in knowledge-intensive jobs, and Norway ranks sixth for the effective use of digital to improve access to basic services..

6. Switzerland

Switzerland ranks best for business usage with Swiss companies, including those in flagship industries such as machinery equipment, electronics, pharmaceuticals, watch manufacturing, and banking, using information technology to stay at the top of the value chain. Switzerland possesses the highest number of fixed broadband Internet subscriptions per capita in the world, which has helped the country to become one of the world’s most prolific innovation powerhouses with more than 50 percent of its population employed in knowledge-intensive jobs (3rd, behind Luxembourg and Singapore). In stark contrast, the Swiss government is not adopting digital as fervently and ranks at the bottom of advanced economies for government online services.

7. The United States

The United States scores well on almost all counts apart from affordability, where it is 53rd, and in the general skills of the population (33rd.) Digital infrastructure remains among the best in the world (4th) and usage is high among all stakeholders. All of which translates into big impacts on the economy and society. Across industries and sectors, American companies leverage digital to create new businesses and opportunities and the United States remains one of the best examples of a large, advanced economy investing to leverage the promise of information technology.

8. United Kingdom

The country boasts one of the most conducive environments in the world for information technology development (4th). Top-level infrastructure, good affordability, and a high degree of preparedness among the population are further positives. Individual usage has improved in recent years, and is now fourth in the world. The United Kingdom displays some of the world’s highest penetration rates of fixed and mobile broadband Internet access and UK companies are showing the way in both business-to-business (third) and business-to-consumer use (1st.) Almost half of the workforce is employed in knowledge-intensive jobs and information technology has a large impact on society at large, notably in terms of e-participation where the country ranks fourth in the world.

9. Luxembourg

In recent years, the government has developed a vision for information technology and, helped by public-private partnerships formed in the context of the ICT Cluster Initiative, Luxembourg has been moving up the rankings in recent years (it was 21st as recently as 2012.). The country leads the world in the proportion of its workforce involved in knowledge-intensive jobs (60%) despite ranking a lowly 50th for affordability. However, there is room to improve government online services (42nd) and the facilitation of citizens’ e-participation (54th).

10. Japan

Japan is up six places in the past year and now ranks second behind Switzerland for business usage. The Japanese are among the most avid users of information technology in the world: almost nine in ten use the Internet on a regular basis, nearly every mobile phone is a smartphone, and the number of mobile broadband subscriptions per capita is the third highest in the world. Digital has not, however, had the same disruptive effect on the economy as it has in the Nordics, the United States, Israel, or the Republic of Korea. This may be due to the hierarchical and patriarchal corporate culture, society’s relatively high aversion for risk, and an unfavorable regulatory regime, all of which hinder the generation of ideas and business creation.

See also digital readiness league tables for Europe, sub-Saharan AfricaNorth Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.

Explore the Networked Readiness Index by using the heatmap below.

Author: Thierry Geiger, Associate Director, Economist, Global Benchmarking Network, Global Competitiveness and Risk, World Economic Forum

Image: An installation of tablet computers at the CeBit trade fair in Hanover. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

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Jobs and the Future of WorkFourth Industrial RevolutionEconomic Growth
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