Policy brief

Bridging the divide: new evidence about firms and digitalisation

Small European firms are falling behind in the race to digitalise, but so are their American counterparts.

Publishing date
11 December 2019

Using new evidence on the digitalisation activities of firms in the European Union and the United States, we document a trend towards digital polarisation based on firms’ use of the latest digital technologies and their plans for future investment in digitalisation. A substantial share of firms are not implementing any state-of-the-art digital technologies and do not have plans to invest in digitalisation. However, there is also a substantial share of firms that are already partially or even fully implementing state-of-the-art digital technologies in their businesses and that plan to further increase their digitalisation investments.

Small Manufacturing firms and old small firms in services are significantly more likely to be and remain non-active in terms of digitalisation. Our results do not provide any evidence that EU firms are more likely than their US counterparts to be stuck on the wrong side of the digitalisation divide. Taking into account firm size and firm age, there are no significant differences between the EU and the US in terms of having more or fewer persistently non-digital firms.

As persistently digitally-inactive firms are also less likely to be innovative, to add employees or to command higher mark-ups, it is important for policymaking to remove barriers that trap these firms in persistent digital inactivity. Lack of access to finance is a major barrier for EU firms compared to their US counterparts, particularly for the EU’s persistently non-digital firms, and especially for older, smaller companies in services. Improving their access to finance might therefore go a long way towards addressing the corporate digitalisation divide in the EU.

About the authors

  • Reinhilde Veugelers

    Prof Dr. Reinhilde Veugelers is a full professor at KULeuven (BE) at the Department of Management, Strategy and Innovation.  She has been a Senior fellow at Bruegel since 2009.  She is also a CEPR Research Fellow, a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and of the Academia Europeana. From 2004-2008, she was on academic leave, as advisor at the European Commission (BEPA Bureau of European Policy Analysis).  She served on the ERC Scientific Council from 2012-2018 and on the RISE Expert Group advising the commissioner for Research.  She is a member of VARIO, the expert group advising the Flemish minister for Innovation. She is currently a member of the Board of Reviewing Editors of the journal Science and a co-PI on the Science of Science Funding Initiative at NBER.

    With her research concentrated in the fields of industrial organisation, international economics and strategy, innovation and science, she has authored numerous well cited publications in leading international journals.  Specific recent topics include novelty in technology development,  international technology transfers through MNEs, global innovation value chains, young innovative companies, innovation for climate change,  industry science links and their impact on firm’s innovative productivity, evaluation of research & innovation policy,  explaining scientific productivity,  researchers’ international mobility,  novel scientific research.


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