Friday, December 30, 2005

Men and Women and the Net

The Pew folks have done it again, this time on how gender differences show up in Internet usage. The 54-page PDF file is How Women and Men Use the Internet.

There’s a very granular discussion of everything from eBay to medical self-help to porn to religion. Of course, we went looking for politics and blogging.

The short of it is that men are much more likely to use the Net for news and research, including politics. Stereotypes find bolstering from every angle. For example:

• Women are huge on emailing family and friends.
• Men get all kinds of information from sports to politics to weather.
• Send email (men 88% to women 94%)
• Support for personal or medical problem (men 50% to women 66%)
• Get spiritual info (men 25% to women 34%)
• Get news (men 75% to women 69%)
• Get financial info (men 56% to women 34%)
• Download a program (men 48% to women 31%)
• Listen to radio online (men 38% to women 20%)
• Do an online auction (men 30% to women 18%)
• Trade securities (men 20% to women 6%)
• Visit adult sites (men 21% to women 5%)

Asked where the Net helps a lot, the biggest distinctions were in keeping in touch with family and friends (women 57% to men 42%) and in pursuing hobbies or interests (men 43% to women 31%)

Of more interest here is what they are doing online politically. Men and women were pretty close in using the Net to get political-campaign news (men 60% to women 56%) and in reading blogs (men 29% to women 25%). Likewise, their growth rates in accessing political news from 2000 through 2004 were similar – men 46% to women 40%.

However, walking the talk was quite different. Pew found in 2001 that 84% of online folk belonged to some online group or organization. In general, a smaller percentage of women belonged across the board. For political groups, it was a dramatic men 27% to women 17%.

The aftermath of September 11th highlighted gender differences too. After the attacks, a lot more men (30% to 25%) used the Net for information gathering, while more women (56% to 50%) used it to “connect with people they needed to reach.” In this period, men turned more to political sites (13% to 9%) and to discussion groups (12% to 8%).

For technology, men are more likely to maintain websites (16% to 11%) and a blog (11% to 8%). However, in a survey of teens last year, boys and girls helped others with blogs equally (32% to 31%) and girls were more likely bloggers themselves (22% to 17%).

Pew found that “(y)ounger women are more likely than younger men to be online (and) older men are more likely than older women to be online.” More black women than black men are online, more single men than single women, more married women than married men, and more men with kids or without kids under 18.

Projections would be amusing and likely inaccurate. Can we assume that the girls who blog and instant message will continue to dominate Net usage as adults? Probably not. Can we project that men will continue to do more information gathering while women keep at the people-connection tasks? Probably.

For right now though, the figures show that men are more likely to read blogs and find political news and opinion. They are also more likely to put politics into action online through joining and likely through contributions.

Maybe that’s no surprise to the major parties and special interests. It is a bit sobering when you consider that the right wing sites have a head start in shaping opinion online.

Let’s see the Dems, liberals and progressives get their message out more and better. Then, if they can only figure out how to provide sites with features that fit the ways many women use the Net…

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