This Chart Shows How Computer Literate Most People Are

This Chart Shows How Computer Literate Most People Are

If you’ve ever gotten the impression that most people aren’t as skilled with computers as you are, you finally have some data to back it up. The above chart shows the distribution of tech skills, and there’s a pretty narrow pool at the top almost everywhere.

This chart comes from a study by the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group. The OECD conducted a study of 215,942 people across 33 countries from 2011-2015. The study tested the skills of people aged 16-65 to measure their literacy in job-related tech skills. Tests ranged from simple tasks like deleting an email (considered “below level 1”), up to figuring out things like “what percentage of the emails sent by John Smith last month were about sustainability?” (considered level 3). Participants were then graded based on the tasks they were able to complete.

The results aren’t terribly surprising if you’ve ever worked a help desk. Around six per cent of the Australian population ranks at level 3, the strongest level of computer literacy. Another 32 per cent ranks at level 2, where users can do things like “find a sustainability-related document that was sent to you by John Smith in October last year”. Those who ranked in level 2 likely aren’t developers or engineers, but they get by.

However, for the 62 per cent of the population below level 2, complex skills are still hard to come by. Twenty six per cent of people across all countries weren’t even able to use computers. The full report at the source link below shows how these numbers break down over age ranges. Regardless, the numbers give some perspective on how skilled the overall population is.

If you’re the type who’s highly skilled with technology (and if you read this site, there’s a higher-than-usual chance you are), then it’s safe to assume not everyone shares your skills. Some people may not even have to. The average office worker may not need to mess around with command lines or complex spreadsheet functions as long as they can find their email. Rather than expecting everyone to know what you know intuitively, it might be better to be patient as you design things for them to use or walk them through learning a new skill.

OECD Skills Studies via Nielsen Norman Group


  • I feel that part of the problem is language comprehension – people can’t even figure out what the task means, even when you give them a set of multiple choice answers.

    A large number of people I work with have PhDs (in non-IT areas) and regardless of age, many do not even know how to create and use a browser bookmark, and cannot connect to another computer, even with heavily diagrammed step-by-step instructions. Creating a spreadsheet that uses formulae more complex than addition is seen as a specialist IT task. (Which I find unbelievable having had to learn spreadsheet stuff from a paper manual long before the internet, and people nowadays can google a video for almost anything now).

    I have direct reports that I am trying to train to break problems down into steps they can solve piecemeal, but most of the time it feels easier to do things for them as it’s 10x faster and keeps my blood pressure down.

  • Is it just coincidence that “can’t use computers” and “Below 1” is high in Japan because it is the only country listed in the chart who’s main language isn’t Latin (European alphabet) based?

    Singapore has English listed as a main language in wikipedia.

    • Maybe, but I think it’s interesting that they also have the biggest proportion of population with strong skills out of the group.

      • I noticed that as well. It may be because Japan is famous for having a disproportionately high ageing population?

  • My entire job is to hide complex tasks behind a happy UI, so others can do work without being overwhelmed. Is it scary that “the others” are engineers?

    I also converted all of our training manuals into video tutorials because of “kids these days”.

    On the one hand I’m happy that I’ve managed to drag a fairly large company into the digital age, but the amount of kicking and screaming involved was quite disturbing.

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