A question about gender

A four-day old article in TechCrunch talks about the digital divide in America in light of a recent survey of Internet behavior from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The results of the survey look like this (as usual the formatting of this blog is too narrow, so you'll probably have to click through to actually see what's going on here. I'll get around to widening the format sometime.)
Arrington wonders:

"Is the switch off factor strictly a question of Age? The study found that the Top 8% are young, ethnically diverse, and mostly male (70%). The median age of the Top 8% is 28 with more than half of them under the age of 30. The bottom 15% was not surprisingly older, with a median age of 64 – and as a group reported the lowest levels of household income. And yet this group isn’t entirely switched off: 82% watch TV everyday and 76% have cable or satellite service, and collectively had the highest levels of watching TV or listening to radio of any group in the study; it’s just that there not using Web 2.0."

I think Arrington is partially right - age certainly has something to do with it, but this is most likely a generational issue. The younger generations that grew up with technology are just more comfortable with it and certainly won't start becoming more crotchety about it as they grow older.

I think the surprising statistic is that 70% of the top users are male. You would imagine that in an age where women are outperforming men in higher education, they would be doing equally well in their utilization of technology, or at least their ability to understand how to use it. If that's true, then why are the top users predominantly male?

It's possible that there's a Larry Summer's like answer here - that men are naturally more gifted with technology, etc. But I think that the answer is probably a bit more subtle. My guess is that it's simply another generational issue. Given that the median top user age is about 28, that means that most of these people grew up when computer usage was still equated with pocket protectors, command line prompts, thick-rimmed glasses (before Rivers Cuomo made them into a hipster fashion statement), and a heavy dose of asocial behavior. Computer usage was not equated with self-expression, finding friends, music/movies, and all of this other jazz that Web 2.0 entrepeneurs and Apple are trying to push. At the time, there was probably a social stigma against girls/women using computers and I'm guessing this has had a pretty heavy impact on the number of technologically inclined women. Of the ones that are out there now, I'm guessing that they just happen to be smart enough to have gotten it anyway, without needing to be brought up with it.

Now, in a time when you can't be New York hipster cool if you don't have your own MacBook, website, and MySpace/facebook profile, I'm guessing this gender bias will fade away. It will be interesting to see how the technological profiles of the next generation shape up and its affect on the next wave of technology.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Technological prowess has as little to do with intelligence as does facility with any other hard science. I agree that stigma may have something to do with the gender gap in technology usage. I also think that it has to do with native preferences. Whether one is male or female, when one is genuinely interested in the technology, there will follow the intrepidness and dedication necessary to master the concepts underlying computational linguistics.

    I do think the gap is generational as well, with little actual basis in gender. One exception I know of is my grandmother, who in her retirement has taught herself several programming languages as well as how to build a hard-drive. She did so because she enjoyed the challenge and because the interest was there. Now she is the resource for her senior ladies' club on all things tech-related.  


Copyright 2006| Blogger Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.