Understanding the asymmetries in ICT adoption across countries: the international digital divide

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Although Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are today deeply embedded with almost every aspect of our lives, they are still far from achieving the tremendous potential in terms of innovation and development opportunities that they are recognised to have (European Commission, 2013; United Nations, 2014). This achievement is limited by the existence of disparities in the rates of adoption and use of these technologies the so-called digital divide. Digital divides exist both between and within countries, among the different socio-economic groups of the population, and are known as international and domestic digital divides, respectively. With this Dissertation we intend to contribute to a better awareness and understanding of ICT asymmetries across countries, i.e., the global digital divide. In order to do so, we develop five studies. The first of these (chapter two) is a literature review of the global digital divide and its main drivers. In this chapter we are able to clearly identify growing attention about this phenomenon, some of its most commonly identified drivers, as well as a gap in the literature, which has to do with the fact that research usually is conducted at cross-country or within countries but not simultaneously. In the European context, given the importance demonstrated by the European Commission toward this subject, with several initiatives implemented, we have developed two studies (chapters three and six). The first of these includes the 27 member states of the European Union with data from 2008 until 2010. With this research we found two latent dimensions on the digital development of the 27 countries ICT infrastructure and adoption by population and e-business and Internet access costs as well as five distinct country profiles in terms of digital development, ranging from the dimension (ICT infrastructure and adoption by population) there is some evidence of a narrowing digital divide, in the second (Internet access costs) the digital divide appears to be widening. Our second European study (chapter six) addresses the digital divide both across and within the 28 member states of the European Union, as Croatia had meanwhile joined. To some extent, our results continue to point to a European digital divide across countries, also with two latent dimensions. The most important contribution of this work is, however, the fact that we were able to find that even for those European countries that are outperforming their counterparts in terms of digital development, some internal gaps still remain and need to be addressed. In other countries, the divides are a matter for concern. These insights would most likely be overlooked if we worked only with aggregate levels. Consequently, chapter six draws attention to the importance of complementing cross-country analysis of the digital divide with an assessment of internal gaps, which is also identified as a literature gap in chapter two. Outside the European context, chapters four and five are dedicated to developing and testing a conceptual model for the global digital divide (chapter four) and analyse in detail the correlation between economic and digital developments of countries (chapter five). The first, based on data collected from 45 countries, including the ones belonging to the European Union, the OECD, with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, develops a measure of digital development which, used with additional variables hypothesised as drivers of the divide for a regression analysis, shows economic and educational imbalances between countries, along with its geography, as the main drivers of the digital divide. Other variables tested, such as individuals living in rural versus urban areas, and official language, are not. In chapter five our focus is to analyse to the greatest extent possible for 110 countries the relationship between the global digital divide and the economic development of countries, the most important driver identified in the previous chapter. Our findings are substantive in that the correlation between economic and digital development was not linear, being much stronger in poorer countries something that is neither commonly hypothesized nor found in the literature. As a result, future studies that focus on the relationship between economic and digital developments may benefit from our findings, by postulating this type of relationship. In our model we were able to explain 83% of the variation in the digital development of countries, compared to just 72% if considering only a linear relationship.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • NOVA Information Management School (NOVA IMS)
  • Oliveira, Tiago, Supervisor
  • Bação, Fernando, Supervisor
Award date11 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2016


  • digital divide
  • digital development
  • ICT
  • Information society
  • e-inclusion
  • diffusion
  • technology adoption


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