December 28, 2005

How Women and Men Use the Internet

Part 1. Introduction

About this report

Over the last six years, the Pew Internet Project has asked tens of thousands of people thousands of questions about the internet. We have measured internet users’ online behavior, we have probed their awareness and attitudes about computers and the internet, and we have gathered impressions of how the internet fits into social lives, work lives, civic and personal lives. In this report we compare and contrast how men and women have answered our questions. 

Beyond addressing the measurable commonalities and differences of what men and women do online and how they engage with the internet, we also wanted to see how and where the internet was important to men and women and how they used it to change or improve their lives.

If the starting point is clear – that there are things so attractive or compelling about the internet to equally draw and keep men and women there – the rest is less clear. Men and women share an appreciation of many obvious appeals of the internet: its efficiencies and time savings; its ease for communicating; its open door to a limitless world of information; its opportunities for fun and relaxation.

There are other areas where men and women lean in different directions: their varying levels of engagement with the world of technology; their different inclinations toward a more open versus a more controlled online environment; their divergent priorities for using the internet to cultivate experiences versus relationships. Usually, these leanings seem to reflect familiar gender2 differences in offline life, but sometimes they don’t. 

  1. Academic discussions of the definitions of the words “gender” and “sex” present the difference as sociological /cultural vs. biological. For the purpose of this report, we are generally, but not strictly adhering to that distinction.