December 28, 2005

Women are catching up to men in most measures of online life

Washington – A wide-ranging look at the way American women and men use the internet shows that men continue to pursue many internet activities more intensively than women, and that men are still first out of the blocks in trying the latest technologies. At the same time, there are trends showing that women are catching up in overall use and are framing their online experience with a greater emphasis on deepening connections with people. A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows how men’s and women’s use of the internet has changed over time. Some highlights: The percentage of women using the internet still lags slightly behind the percentage of men. Women under 30 and black women outpace their male peers. However, older women trail dramatically behind older men.

  • 68% of men are internet users, compared with 66% of women. Because they make up more of the population, the total number of women online is now slightly larger than the number of men.
  • 86% of women ages 18-29 are online, compared with 80% of men that age.
  • 34% of men age 65 and older are online, compared with 21% of women that age.
  • 60% of black women are online, compared with 50% of black men. Men are slightly more intense internet users than women. Men log on more often, spend more time online, and are more likely to be broadband users.
  • On a typical day, 67% of online men use the internet, compared with 64% of women.
  • 52% of men have broadband connections at home, compared with 48% of women. In most categories of internet activity, more men than women are participants, but women are catching up.
  • Compared with women, online men are more likely to: check the weather, get news, get do-it-yourself information, check for sports information, get political information, get financial information, do job-related research, download software, listen to music, rate a product/person/service through an online reputation system, download music files, use a webcam, take a class.
  • Compared with men, online women are more likely to: use email, get maps and directions, look for health and medical information, use web sites to get support for health or personal problems, get religious information.
  • For many online activities, the growth rate for women’s participation is greater than the growth rate for men’s, including: using government web sites, getting religious information, watching video clips or listening to audio clips, getting news, researching products. More than men, women are enthusiastic online communicators, and they use email in a more robust way. Women are more likely than men to use email to write to friends and family about a variety of topics: sharing news and worries, planning events, forwarding jokes and funny stories. Women are more likely to feel satisfied with the role email plays in their lives, especially when it comes to nurturing their relationships. And women include a wider range of topics and activities in their personal emails. Men use email more than women to communicate with various kinds of organizations. More online men than women perform online transactions. Men and women are equally likely to use the internet to buy products and take part in online banking, but men are more likely to use the internet to pay bills, participate in auctions, trade stocks and bonds, and pay for digital content. Men are more avid consumers than women of online information. Men look for information on a wider variety of topics and issues than women do. Men are more likely than women to use the internet as a destination for recreation. Men are more likely to: gather material for their hobbies, read online for pleasure, take informal classes, participate in sports fantasy leagues, download music and videos, remix files, and listen to radio. Men are more interested than women in technology, and they are also more tech savvy.
  • 68% of men are responsible for home computer maintenance, compared with 45% of women.
  • 50% of men have changed the browser homepage on their computers, compared with 34% of women.
  • Among people who are not currently internet users, 58% of women say they don’t need the internet or want it, compared with 45% of men who say they don’t need it and 43% of men who don’t want it. “If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections,” said Deborah Fallows, Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project, who authored the new report, “How Women and Men Use the Internet.” That said, men and women are more similar than different in their online lives, starting with their common appreciation of the internet’s strongest suit: efficiency. Both men and women approach with gusto online transactions that simplify their lives by saving time on such mundane tasks as buying tickets or paying bills. Men and women also value the internet for a second strength, as a gateway to limitless vaults of information. Men reach farther and wider for topics, from getting financial information to political news. Along the way, they work search engines more aggressively, using engines more often and with more confidence than women. Women are more likely to see the vast array of online information as a “glut” and to penetrate deeper into areas where they have the greatest interest, including health and religion. Women tend to treat information gathering online as a more textured and interactive process – one that includes gathering and exchanging information through support groups and personal email exchanges. “This moment in internet history will be gone in a blink,” said Fallows. “We may soon look back on it as a charming, even quaint moment, when men reached for the farthest corners of the internet, trying and experimenting with whatever came along, and when women held the internet closer and tried to keep it a bit more under control.” About the Pew Internet & American Life Project: The Pew Internet Project is a non-profit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center that produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care, and civic/political life. Support for the non-profit Pew Internet Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.