Online habits: Men shop, women bank

A new study about how gender affects our Internet behavior upends some old stereotypes

By Judy Berman
Published May 21, 2009 2:21PM (EDT)

I cringe to think about the amount of time I spend online every week. My boyfriend, on the other hand, rarely uses a computer at work and can probably count on one hand the hours he devotes the Internet. But, in our free time, we generally use the web for the same reasons: we keep up with friends, pay bills and check bank statements, read blogs and buy stuff. So it never really occurred to me that our online habits would have much to do with our genders.

As it turns out, according to a new study by eMarketer, "gender, more so than race, ethnicity or economic status, determines how and what we peruse online." Fortune reports that, while a slightly higher number of women use the Internet, men spend more time surfing the web. Apparently, men are also more likely to watch videos (a fact that contradicts the reality of my apartment, where my Buzzfeed addiction results in endless hours wasted on clips of cute cats and '80s infomercials). Women also seem to frequent health sites more than their male counterparts (guilty as charged).

But the report also found some unexpected similarities in the genders' online behavior. For instance, "although women are sometimes pegged as more avid shoppers, men are just as keen as women to make online purchases." And while ladies are supposed to be more "verbal" than dudes, we don't seem to do more blogging, e-mailing or social networking. Women are now "just as likely as men to bank online," and parents of both genders devote an equal amount of time to finding information about their children's health and education.

What's most interesting to me about the findings isn't what they mean for men and women's lives online -- it's what our Internet habits say about the way gender roles may be changing offline. Is the web inspiring -- or merely reflecting -- the upswing in nurturing dads and finance-savvy ladies? It's hard to tell. But no matter what the cause, both developments sound like good news to me.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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