Women Use Web to Change Social Landscape

More than 9 million women have gone online for the first time in the last six months, and they have brought gender parity to the Internet population, according to a survey the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The survey also found this surge in Internet usage by women is 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, the survey found that Internet users in general — and online women in particular — believe their use of email has strengthened their relationships and increased their contact with relatives and friends.

On the Web, the gender gap is quite pronounced in some places. Women are more likely to seek health information and play online games, according to the survey. 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 trade stocks online, 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 percent of those who email relatives say their level of contact with significant family members has increased; 66 percent of Internet users say email has improved their connection with their friends; 60 percent 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.

“E-mail is a tool that many people now use to deepen and improve their ties to family and friends,” said 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.”

According to PC Data’s Net Portrait* survey, men online outnumber women by a 51 to 49 percent ratio, while women outnumber men by the same ratio in the US population. Nielsen//NetRatings found the gender of the US Internet to be at an even 50:50. And while women are going online at a faster rate than men, men are still spending more time online than women, and that gap is growing.

The Pew project’s tracking survey of Internet users found more than 55 million Americans access the Internet on a typical day, which is 60 percent of all those with Internet access. Several other major insights also 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 percent of online Americans get news from the Web; 21 percent browse the Web just for fun; 18 percent look for information about a hobby; 16 percent do job-related research; 14 percent do research about products and services (and 4 percent buy products or services); 12 percent send instant messages; 7 percent seek health information; 6 percent play a game; 5 percent look for information about a job; 3 percent buy a or sell a stock, bond, or mutual fund share; and 3 percent participate in online auctions.
  • Changing family communication: 62 percent 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 percent 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.
  • 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 percent) have used the Internet to research products and services. One in two online users (48 percent) 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.

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