Gender Differences in Internet Usage and Task Preferences
Kai Zheng (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), Akhilesh Bajaj (University of Tulsa, USA), Beth Osborne Daponte (Yale University, USA) and John B. Engberg (RAND Corporation, USA)
Copyright: © 2006
How people use the Internet is an intriguing question to researchers, computer educators, Internet content providers (ICPs), and marketing practitioners. With the expansion of online information resources and the improvement of connection bandwidth, Internet users have been offered more and more choices, at the same time, faced with more and more dilemmas on how to allocate their time and energy online. How much time do people spend on surfing the Internet? What do they do? Are there any traceable patterns to interpret the Internet behavior and to predict future use based on people’s demographic, social, or psychological characteristics? These are all interesting questions that researchers attempt to answer. In 1995, the HomeNet project conducted at the Human Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, launched a series of field studies to examine the residential Internet behavior. It has found that social demographics—generation, race and gender, rather than socioeconomic factors—income, education—and psychological factors—like social extraversion and attitude toward computing—were major influences on use (Kraut, Scherlis, Mukhopadhyay, Manning, & Kiesler, 1996). Following the HomeNet project’s initial attempt, many empirical studies have been conducted globally to study the Internet behavior and its driving factors. Among these efforts, a noticeable focus is to resolve the long-lasting controversy, inherited from the similar debate of computer behavior studies, on how gender differences influence the way people use the Internet. Many researchers believe that females are less technology-inclined, less motivated, and therefore less competent in the masculine computer and Internet culture; on the other hand, some other researchers argue females have the ability to be proficient in use of the Internet. The present study is thereby conducted to provide more empirical evidence of gender effects on Internet usage and task preferences. In particular, we are interested in examining gender influences when users’ computer proficiency is controlled for. We believe that the results of this study can provide valuable insights into effective online content delivery, targeted marketing strategies, and customized computer education to encourage use. The close examination of people’s actual surfing data can also contribute to a better understanding of how the Internet is actually utilized. The next section describes the debate about how women and men respond in different ways to computers and the Internet. This is followed by a presentation of our study design: the monitoring software, the content classification schema and method, and the user population that we studied. The findings are presented next, followed by concluding remarks.