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October 28, 2003

why aren't more european women online?

As many women as men use the internet daily in the USA, in fact, American mothers spend more time surfing than do their teenaged children, but it's not that way in the rest of the world. Deborah Wheeler is a political scientist who studies how the internet is used in Islamic cultures. She's featured today on the Norwegian site forskning.no (thanks to Hilde for pointing this out), where she talks about the gender gap in internet access in most of the world. In Arab countries, Wheeler's main focus, only 6% of internet users are women. In Latin America 38% of those who are online are women, but surprisingly, in the EU, only 25% of internet users are women. Unfortunately I can't find good statistics elsewhere, confirming these figures. NUA's demographics on women's use of the internet are woefully out of date, though it confirms that in 2001 only 36% of Germany's internet users were women. Even in liberated, egalitarian Norway, where I live, while there's not much of a gender gap in who has access to the net (68% of women and 79% of men) but only a third of Norwegian women use the net daily, while half of Norwegian men do.

The question, then, is why? In Arab countries oppression of women seems an obvious reason. In Europe, the answer is probably often that many women aren't interested - but if so, why do they not see the net as interesting?

Online shopping is better in the States than in Europe. I reckon that's one reason. More interestingly, the same goes for online communities: Europe has so many small countries and small languages that it's far harder to reach the critical mass you need for any topic. I signed up for American mailing lists when I became pregnant, and found a hundred other pregnant women with due dates in July '96, all as eager as I was to share their hopes and worries. There still isn't an equivalent in Norwegian, though there are now Norwegian language forums about pregnancy in general. If I'd not been comfortable in English I wouldn't have found any online community to support me during my pregancy, not in a language I mastered, not in 1996.

Posted by Jill Walker at 02:58 PM in Research | Permalink


I can't speak for the rest of Europe, but in the UK the figures are less extreme than you suggest. According to the Office for National Statistics, 59% of men and 52% of women had used the internet in the three months to July 2003. The ONS analysis does go on to say,
Men still use the Internet more often than women: nearly half of all men who accessed the Internet in the three months prior to interview did so every day or almost every day compared with 35 per cent of women. A further 30 per cent of women tended to access the Internet at least once a month but not every week, or less than once a month compared with 21 per cent of men.
What that slightly obscures is that although quite a lot more men than women access the internet every day or almost every day, more women than men access the net between one and four days a week - so the real difference is only among the most intensive users.
The data comes from this quarterly report (PDF).

Posted by: marek at Oct 28, 2003 4:25:26 PM

Hmmm. If only I could get my mother to even buy a computer. She is in the minority as far as surfing goes--as well as the fact that she's Hispanic.

Part of it her disinterest in it, and part of it is her lack of time as well.

As far as my household goes, I'm on-line WAY more than my wife is. Between LJ, e-mails, Magic Online, etc., etc., etc. I've got her beat. Of course, being an e-mail admin and on-line course admin probably skews the numbers in my favor though. She'd probably get more time if I wasn't such the PC hog. She's anxious to get her laptop delivered soon, to be sure.

Posted by: Mike at Oct 28, 2003 4:54:18 PM

The answer is at the end of the post. Language is the #1 barrier. And women staying at home are even more exposed than men to this barrier.

I participate in some french language mailing list about Alzheimer and gardening. Don't event think of posting there any information in english, it will be rejected.

This is a normal reaction.

Posted by: Fran├žois Granger at Oct 28, 2003 6:01:37 PM

According to this article from December of 2002, 43.3% of the Internet users in Spain were women (and their number was rapidly increasing). I wonder where Wheeler got her figures from.

Posted by: Ion at Oct 28, 2003 8:46:29 PM

I'd be surprised if these statistics having drastically changed in the next two years with the growth of extremely personal communication on the web through family weblogs.

My family has a disproportionate number of teachers, so is probably ahead of the curve, but we use email across 3 generations to stay in touch. As the tools for sharing news and pictures via the web grow easier & more abundant (TypePad anyone?), I think we'll see more use of the web as a way for families to stay in touch. That in turn will probably bring more women and seniors to make daily use of the Web.

Posted by: Dinah at Oct 28, 2003 8:55:42 PM

At least in Germany, in my subjective opinion, the Internet for private use is not yet a mass phenomenon. Users still tend to be academics or geeks, not groups where women are well represented.

A factor might be cost... dialup is always pay-per-minute, and DSL starts at ca. $50 per month.

Plus there is an alternative technological outlet for social contact, namely cell phones and short messenging. That might be more attractive to young women in Germany than the Internet.

On there other hand, there's Poland, where there are tens of thousands of young, female webloggers. Marysia Milonas (http://jej.notatnik.net/) is researching the Polish weblog scene for her PhD, and she does some posting in English.

Posted by: Scott at Oct 28, 2003 11:31:07 PM

no statistics, but I think it boils down to three things: AOL, shopping (lack of these two) and cost barriers.

Sure AOL is available here but not nearly as omnipresent. (in German language areas AOL is sold as "Alles Online"...which for some reason I find hilarous...) And online shopping is still rather limited. At least here in Switzerland, mail order has traditionally been looked down on, so by extension internet shopping is still regarded with some suspicion. Plus, it is still relatively expensive to get online here.

That being said there are many real smart women online in Switzerland too. (e.g. http://www.monorom.to/moblog/ )

Posted by: maki at Oct 29, 2003 4:11:46 AM

"In Europe, the answer is probably often that many women aren't interested - but if so, why do they not see the net as interesting?"

One plausible explanation is that European women use their mobile phones for text-based personal communication far more than their American sisters. Before drawing any conclusions, it is necessary to take a close look at this difference, and how usage of an alternative communications technology affects women's perception of conventional Net-based services.

Posted by: Eirik at Oct 29, 2003 4:22:05 AM

I think those figures are incorrect. I wrote a column on gender differences online for the Irish Times recently, posted here


on some recent findings from Jupiter which place the EU figure at 42% compared to 51% in the US.

Nua, by the way, no longer exists as a company -- its internet survey aggregation site was sold on to a publisher then sold on again and so whatever is still on the old site has not been maintained in ages.

Posted by: Karlin Lillington at Oct 29, 2003 6:25:30 AM

Thanks, Karlin! That's one of my favourite things about blogs and comments: errors can be pointed out and varying interpretations discussed. Do you have a link to the statistics you cite in the article?

As my colleague Hilde pointed out to me at lunch today, statistics hide a lot. Although a third of Norwegian women vs half Norwegian men use the net daily, if you looked at age as well as gender you'd probably find a much more equitable gender balance among younger people.

And as Eirik points out above, European women man be using other means than the web for the same purposes. Text messaging, for instance. We might be specialising in different areas.

Posted by: Jill at Oct 29, 2003 8:15:41 AM

'Europe' is a pretty wide canvas these days, concealing a multitude of national and regional differences. With the introduction of a whole heap of former Soviet Union (FSU) states into the EU, the differences are going to be more pronounced still.

In the UK, I've only come across one woman recently that doesn't have email, and email is the standard way of communicating for people in a range of sectors outside computing (e.g. among translators, a profession more than 50% women). In Spain, on the other hand, many people in their twenties and thirties don't have a computer.

Having said that, my mother (now over 65) who lives in northern Spain bought herself a computer last year, went to local classes, hooked up to an ISP and started sending email without any help from me at all (saves a lot on international calls, plus she can use it for design work). But her mother (87) hasn't taken the plunge...yet. We're still working on her.

Posted by: Louise Ferguson at Oct 29, 2003 6:48:57 PM

Here's the Cyberatlas link that has many of the pointers to stats that I used for my column:


Posted by: Karlin Lillington at Oct 29, 2003 7:51:30 PM

I just want to comment abot Arab countries women. It should be noted that Islam does not hinder woman to develop their intelligence. The problem is the Arab in the end of the day can not differentiate between their culture and the real Islamic teaching. Plus not all Arab is Muslim.Arab culture is predominantly male. If you look at souteast asian countries where Muslim is dominant, the woman use internet.

Posted by: Lucy at Nov 1, 2003 4:18:58 AM