updated 11/10/2005 2:34:29 PM ET 2005-11-10T19:34:29

A digital divide has appeared among Europeans, with age, income and education determining whether the continent's citizens use the Internet, according to a new European Union study released Thursday.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, said its survey which gathered information from across the 25-nation bloc revealed a digital divide, especially between the young and those over 50 years old, many of whom have never or hardly use computers or use them to go online.

European governments have been trying to increase digital education and training as part of efforts to boost the EU's sluggish economic growth prospects and increase the bloc's competitive edge against the United States and new economic powers from Asia.

"A gap remains between users and nonusers or between 'haves' and 'have-nots'," Eurostat said.

The survey found that 85 percent of school or university students aged 16 to 24 used the Internet, while only 13 percent of people aged between 55 and 74 went online during the survey. The poll was conducted across the 25-nation EU between April and June 2004, questioning 204,029 people. No margin of error was given.

Only 25 percent of those who had not completed high school used the Internet, with the figure rising to 52 percent for those who attained a secondary school diploma and to 77 percent for college or university graduates.

Only 40 percent of unemployed people used the Internet, compared to 60 percent of those with a job, the survey said.

In total, average Internet use across the EU stood at 47 percent. A similar U.S. survey found Internet use in the United States in 2003 stood at 55 percent.

Eurostat said the low Internet use had several causes, including "missing infrastructure or access; missing incentives to use information and communications technologies; lack of the computer literacy or skills necessary to take part in the information society."

The survey found that computer use and use of the Internet was highest in the Nordic countries of Denmark (76 percent), Finland (70 percent), and Sweden (82 percent), while the lowest rates were found in Greece (20 percent).

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