May 10, 2000

Tracking online life: How women use the Internet to cultivate relationships with family and friends

A new study released today shows that more than nine million women have gone online for the first time in the last six months, and they have brought gender parity to the Internet population. This surge in Internet usage by women is also reshaping America”s social landscape because women are using email to enrich their important relationships and enlarge their networks.

Contrary to some reports that the Internet creates social isolation, this new survey shows that Internet users in general – and online women in particular – believe that their use of email has strengthened their relationships and increased their contact with relatives and friends.

Those are some of the key findings in the first survey of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a research center created to take a comprehensive, in-depth look at the social impact of the Internet. On the Web, the gender gap is quite pronounced in some places. Women are more likely to seek health information and play online games. They are also more inclined than men to get religious information and research new jobs. Men are more likely than women to use the Web to get news, seek financial information and do online stock trading, participate in online auctions, access government Web sites, and search for sports news.

At the same time, there are a striking number of online activities that are performed in equal measure by men and women. These often involve Web activities that are very popular with young adults such as sending instant messages, browsing the Web for fun, and getting information about popular culture.

Fifty-five percent of Internet users say their use of email has improved their connection with their family; 59% of those who email relatives say their level of contact with significant family members has increased; 66% of Internet users say email has improved their connection with their friends; 60% of those who email their friends say they communicate more often with significant friends now because of email. In these areas, women cite the benefits of email more frequently than men do. Users” responses challenge the notion that those who log on to the Internet are turning away from important social relationships and their contact with the wider world.

“Email is a tool that many people now use to deepen and improve their ties to family and friends,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Use of the Internet actually enlarges and enriches most users” social worlds. And that is particularly true for women.”

This innovative tracking survey of Internet users shows that more than 55 million Americans access the Internet on a typical day, which is 60 percent of all those with Internet access. And several other major insights emerge from the data:

The Web catches up to email. Communication is not the Internet”s only “killer app.” Today, the number of Americans who seek information or complete transactions on the Web is the same as the number of those who communicate with email. On a typical day on the Internet, 22% of online Americans get news from the Web; 21% browse the Web just for fun; 18% look for information about a hobby; 16% do job-related research; 14% do research about products and services (and 4% buy products or services); 12% send instant messages; 7% seek health information; 6% play a game; 5% look for information about a job; 3% buy a or sell a stock, bond, or mutual fund share; and 3% participate in online auctions.

Changing family communication: 62% of those who email relatives say they like email because they can use it to stay in touch with family members without having to spend as much time talking to them; 72% of those who email friends say the same thing about those relationships. Inside online families, email use is increasingly important. Siblings who exchange email say they send each other email more frequently than they call each other. Other email relationships now involve email contact that is as frequent as phone contact. A third of those who email family members like e-communication because they say it is easier to say frank or unpleasant things via email than other forms of communication.

Among the other highlights:

Family celebration. 26 million Americans have used email to start communicating regularly with a family member with whom they had not previously had much contact; 24 million have used the Web and email to locate or hunt for family or friends they had lost touch with; 16 million say they have learned more about their families since they began using email, 30 million are members of families in which someone has created a family Web site; and 54 million belong to a family where someone in the family has used the Internet to research their family history.

The Web”s real purchasing power. A huge majority of those with Internet access (74%) have used the Internet to research products and services. One in two online users (48%) have bought a product online, such as books, music, toys, or clothing. Higher-income, better-educated and more-experienced Internet users are more likely to follow through with an online purchase.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a new research center funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Washington-based project will explore aspects of the Internet that have not received sustained attention from policymakers and scholars: its effect on children and families, communities, schools, the work place, and civic and political life.

Lee Rainie, director of the Project, is the former managing editor of US News & World Report. During his 12 years at the magazine he also oversaw its new media operations. The Project is an initiative of the Pew Research enter for The People & The Press, a nonpartisan polling and research organization directed by Andrew Kohut. He is the chair of the advisory board to the Project and will be deeply involved in devising surveys and other quantitative instruments to measure the impact of the Internet.

The results in this inaugural report of the Pew Internet Project merged from a daily tracking survey that has run continuously since March . Through March 31, 1,690 persons with Internet access were interviewed. They were asked about their overall use of email and the Web, with a special focus on getting information about the things Internet users did online on a typical day.

For a full copy of the report, and for more information about this survey and upcoming activities of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, visit our Web site at www.pewinternet.org. A live audio webcast at will be available Wednesday morning at 10:00 am at http://pewinternet.forumone.com.

For soundbites, call 1-877-PEWNET1 starting May 10, 2000.