Masthead CMC Magazine / March 1, 1996
 The Gendered Mystique, by Leslie Regan Shade

Looking Closer at Web Demographics

The question persists; exactly how many women use the Net and for what purposes? This has been a preoccupation of tech pundits, Net demographers, and commercial interests for awhile. Several demographic studies in the last year alone indicate that women's access to the Internet is increasing. Matrix Information and Directory Services and Texas Internet Consulting revealed that in academia, gender parity is more pronounced than in other sites. The authors concluded that in educational organizations, the ratio of males to females using the Internet was 59% to 41%, compared to 64% and 30% for non-educational organizations; and 64% to 36% for the Internet. GVU Center's 3rd WWW User Survey indicated that, overall, 15.5% of the users were female, 82% male, and 2.5% 'Rather not say!'. Compared to their last survey, this represents a 6% increase in women and a 8% decrease for men. The CommerceNet/Nielson Internet Demographics Study revealed that males represent 66% of Internet users and account for 77% of Internet usage; and that WWW users are upscale (25% have an income over $80K), professional (50% are professional or managerial), and educated (64% have at least college degrees). Males comprise 59% of the users of on-line services and are responsible for 63% of the total usage. Patrick, Black, and Whalen's online demographic survey of users on the National Capital FreeNet (NCF) in Ottawa revealed that 81.8% of respondents were male, the average age was 34.3, most users had attained an undergraduate degree, with 41.5% salaried employees, and 27.5% students.

What none of these demographic studies measure, however, is how women are actually using computer networks and online services. What functions and services are they mostly likely to use? What kinds of content do they desire? What are the impediments for use-economic, technical, access to training, time, and perceived usefulness? Resnick's survey of women online revealed that email is the Internet feature women use most-typically for connecting with co-workers and friends in distant locales. Access to special interest bulletin boards with topics like feminist issues, socially responsible investing, small business matters, parenting, and legal issues ranked a close second. Surprisingly, for the mavens of video-on-demand and the proponents of interactive cybermalls, shopping was ranked as the least-used online service; two-thirds of the women surveyed had never purchased a single item of online merchandise. --

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