Men, Women Use Web for Different Purposes

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Women are now as likely to use the Internet as men — about two-thirds of both genders — yet a new study shows that gaps remain in what each sex does online.

American men who go online are more likely than women to check the weather, the news, sports, political and financial information, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported Wednesday.

They are also more likely to use the Internet to download music and software and to take a class.

Online women, meanwhile, are bigger users of e-mail, and they are also more likely to go online for religious information and support for health or personal problems.

"For men, it's just, 'Give me the facts," said Deborah Fallows, who wrote the report based on six years of Pew surveys. "For women, it's 'Let's talk about this. Are you worried about this problem?' It's keeping in touch and connecting with people in a richer way."

About two-thirds of the 6,403 adults surveyed by Pew during 2005 said they use the Internet. By gender, it was 68 percent of the male respondents, and 66 percent of the female participants — a statistically insignificant difference given the study's margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

In 2002, by contrast, the gap was slightly larger: 61 percent vs. 57 percent.

The surveys find that for many activities, such as getting travel information or looking up a phone number, men and women are equally likely to use the Internet.

Barry Wellman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, said he was struck by the similarities and the affirmation that the Internet is so integrated into the lives of both men and women that "they aren't even thinking they are going on the Internet anymore."

In the relatively small number of activities where differences were noticeable, they were often slight.

A survey from March, for instance, found that 54 percent of online men use the Internet for job-related research, compared with 48 percent of female Internet users. A September survey found 94 percent of online women sending e-mail, compared with 88 percent for men.

Women also were more likely to use e-mail to write friends and relatives about news, worries, advice and planning. They were also more likely to credit e-mail for improving relationships with friends, family and colleagues.

Men, on the other hand, were more likely to participate in interest groups, such as fan clubs.

Men also were more likely to use the Internet for entertainment, such as downloading songs and video, listening to music at Web sites and remixing songs, images or text into new creations. Fallows attributes that to a greater comfort with technology, another of the surveys' findings.

Tracy Kennedy, a University of Toronto and Brock University lecturer who specializes in Internet use in the home, said that beyond gender, a person's offline life produces "different expectations, different routines and different needs" when he or she goes online.

For example, women are often the primary caretakers in households, she said, so, "yes, it's very likely that she will be searching for health information for her kids and spouse [or] partner."

"We can certainly assert the gender differences argument, but I think there's much more to it than that," she said.