Friday, December 30, 2005

More on the Pew Study about Gender and the Web

The post below discusses some of my general concerns with the Pew study. This one gives an example of how the popularization of findings warps their meaning and serves to reinforce existing gender roles. This example applies to some of the study findings where the differences between men and women were found to be statistically significant. As I point out in my next post the study found no gender differences on a vast number of questions.

I'm going to excerpt a piece from one of the newspaper articles about the study results. It goes like this:

But she said online behavior reflects traditional offline behavior among the sexes. Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.

Notice how women do certain things and men do other things? Here are the actual percentage differences as found in the study:
-using e-mail*: women 94% men 88%
-seeking health information: women 74%, men 58%
-getting support for health problems: women 66% men 50%
-pursuing religious interests: women 34% men 25%
-checking the weather: women 75% men 82%
-reading the news: women 69% men 75%
-getting DIY information: women 50% men 60%
-checking sports scores: women 27% men 59%
-investigating products: women 75% men 82%
-downloading music: women 20% men 30%

Now re-read that little paragraph above. Can you see the enormous distortion?
*The percentage using e-mail may not measure whatever the nurturing and building relationships might mean, but it was the figure directly preceding the others quoted here.