Digital inequalities in Greater Jakarta

Recently, international media have paraded the eccentricities of the digital revolution in Indonesia. In 2011, The Economist noted that Indonesia hosts the world’s second largest number of users of Facebook and the world’s third largest number of users of Twitter.

The striking popularity of online social networks in Indonesia paradoxically occurs against the country’s relatively low ranking of internet penetration in Southeast Asia. The Jakarta Post reported that only 21% of people aged 15 to 49 in Indonesia use the internet.

While young, urban middle-class Indonesians are increasingly portrayed by international media as proficient users of mobile phones and internet technology, relatively little is known about the patterns of use of new media and the ensuing potential for a digital divide and information inequalities among different socio-economic segments of young people in the country.

Potential for ICT adoption

In Indonesia, there are some 61 million young adults aged 20 to 34 who are ripe for ICT adoption. The strategic importance of cohorts of young adults is underlined by their marked achievements in literacy and education relative to older cohorts.

Being an archipelago consisting of diverse ethnic groups and languages, the degree to which members of a particular cohort are able to communicate in a common language might be interpreted as a sign of their potential to be ‘wired’ and ‘connected’.

Relative to older cohorts, the ability to communicate in Bahasa Indonesia among young adults is almost universal. On the contrary, however, the experience and extent of engagement in the new participatory space facilitated by ICT is unlikely to be universal.

This condition mirrors the situations in the many parts of the developing regions of the world, where within-country information inequities remain pervasive.

Using data from a representative survey of over 3,000 people and in-depth interviews with 80 people, our recent paper published in the International Journal of Indonesian Studies examines the socio-demographic nature of the digital divide among young adults in Greater Jakarta.

Access inequalities

Results from the 2010 Greater Jakarta Transition to Adulthood Survey indicate that 85% of respondents owned a mobile phone. Access to the internet and its purpose of use were strongly differentiated across socio-demographic lines, including gender and education.

Although 60% of respondents had never used the internet, 85% of those who do use the internet access it on a daily basis, with mobile phones being the most common access point.

Our findings from both the survey and in-depth interviews are in line with literature suggesting that young, male and highly educated individuals are the first in line when it comes to adopting new technologies.

Despite deriving a sample from Greater Jakarta, the most urbanised part of Indonesia, our study suggests that the digital and the ensuing information-knowledge divide remain prevalent even among the age groups who are most likely to be early adopters of technology.

On one hand, when measuring the gender gap in mobile phone ownership, our results are in support of the normalisation thesis, which suggests differences will diminish as usage becomes more widespread.

On the other hand, although there is weak convergence, the gaps in mobile phone ownership across young adults in different education segments remain considerable.

Measuring the digital divide in terms of weekly access to the internet further supports the social stratification thesis.

Although the gender gap is smaller among younger respondents, large and persistent gaps in internet access continue to occur between people on the lower end of the education spectrum compared to those in the middle and higher range.

Education, rather than gender, plays a pivotal role in digital inequalities among young adults in our sample.


Our findings on the socio-demographic dimensions of the digital divide in urban Indonesia bring forth a number of implications for higher education in Indonesia.

To begin with, while students currently enrolled in over 3,000 tertiary institutions spread across Indonesia are arguably among the early adopters of ICT, the extent to which ICT is embedded in their learning experience will be contingent upon the varying levels of ICT access and adoption at their institutions.

While top state universities such as Universitas Indonesia have moved forward to embrace an integrated online learning environment, many other tertiary institutions still fall behind in terms of both their access to the internet and their adoption of online learning tools.

Future studies should investigate the digital divide among tertiary institutions and its effects in driving the gap in performance inequality in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, individual institutions should be encouraged to engage in innovative partnerships with projects such as Indonesia’s Meaningful Broadband Initiative to generate models for a successful online learning environment.

* Ariane Utomo is a research fellow at the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, The Australian National University. Anna Reimondos is a research assistant and Iwu Utomo is a fellow at the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute. Peter McDonald is professor of demography and director of the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, and Terence Hull is adjunct professor of demography in the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute and JC Caldwell chair in population, health and development in the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. This is an extract from their article, “Digital Inequalities and Young Adults in Greater Jakarta: A socio-demographic perspective”, published in the first edition of the International Journal of Indonesian Studies.