You’ve come a long way, baby, at least according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The report, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” reveals women are catching up to men in overall Internet use and framing their online experience with a greater emphasis on deepening connections with people.
While Pew determined 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, women are making headway.
“This moment in Internet history will be gone in a blink,” said Deborah Fallows, Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project, who authored the report. “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.”
By the Numbers
The percentage of women using the Internet still lags slightly behind the percentage of men, according to the study. Sixty-eight percent of men are Internet users, compared with 66 percent 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.
Women under 30 and black women outpace their male peers. Sixty percent of black women are online, compared with 50 percent of black men.
However, older women trail dramatically behind older men, according to the study. Eighty-six percent of women ages 18-29 are online, compared with 80 percent of men that age. Thirty-four percent of men age 65 and older are online, compared with 21 percent of women that age.
Pew research shows that, 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, and take a class.
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use e-mail, get maps and directions, look for health and medical information, use Web sites to get support for health or personal problems and get religious information.
Meanwhile, the Pew report shows that 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.
More than men, the Pew study shows that women are enthusiastic online communicators, and they use e-mail in a more robust way. Women are more likely than men to use e-mail to write to friends and family about a variety of topics, including sharing news and worries, planning events, and forwarding jokes and funny stories.
Women are more likely to feel satisfied with the role e-mail 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 e-mails. Men use e-mail more than women to communicate with various kinds of organizations, according to Pew.
The E-Commerce Impact
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.
There is no denying that female shoppers are flexing a lot more monetary muscle on the Internet these days. E-commerce experts are reporting that this demographic was a major factor in the 2004 online holiday shopping season that soared to a 25 percent year-over-year increase to a total of US$23 billion in revenues. Figures are not yet available for 2005.
Overstock.com President Patrick Bayren told TechNewsWorld that female shoppers are flexing a lot more of their spending power online now. That’s good news for Overstock.com because its customer base is two-thirds women. Bayren offers two reasons why women are such a powerful force in online retailing.
“First, women surpassed men in Internet usage around 2001 and, second, we know that it takes about three years of using the Internet before people are comfortable shopping online,” Bayren said. He said the site’s advertising is targeted primarily toward female shoppers, and the Web site is geared toward female shoppers.
Pattern of Differences
Among people who are not currently Internet users, 58 percent of women say they don’t need the Internet or want it, compared with 45 percent of men who say they don’t need it and 43 percent 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,” Fallows said.
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.
Gateway Versus Community
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, according to the Pew research. 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 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 e-mail exchanges.