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The Cutting Edge

Women Now Lead in Use of Internet, Study Finds

August 10, 2000|LESLIE WALKER | WASHINGTON POST

Teenage girls flocked online in greater numbers than any other group in the United States during the past year, creating a female majority in cyberspace for the first time.

Female Internet users finally outnumbered men and boys online in the United States in May, a reversal from the early days of the male-dominated Internet, according to a report released Wednesday by Internet market research firms Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications. Female users accounted for 50.4% of all U.S. Internet users that month.

Women have been slower to go online than men. Female users made up only 38% of all Internet users in 1996--but their ranks have been growing ever since. They reached parity with male users in February and outnumbered them three months later.

"This is definitely not a one-time outnumbering of men," said Media Metrix analyst Anne Rickert. "It's a trend that suggests women are favorably positioned for further growth in the years to come."

By far the biggest increase over the last year was for girls ages 12 to 17. Their ranks online soared 126%, while the number of boys that age who went online rose only 45%.

Researchers found teenage girls are flocking to chat rooms and Web sites for their favorite magazines, fashions and rock bands.

"Consider the average adolescent girl--she craves community and a sense of belonging," Rickert said. "And the Internet is a perfect vehicle for providing this."

The Web sites drawing the highest percentage of their visitors from the ranks of teenage girls were Cosmogirl.com (half its visitors were girls ages 12 to 17), Teenpeople.com, the Delias.com fashion site, Seventeen.com, Gurlmail.com and Blink182.com, a fan site for the rock band.

Women older than 55 also signed online in droves. Their ranks increased by 109% during the year, with various genealogy, health and fun Web sites drawing large numbers of older women.

The report analyzed the kind of sites that draw the highest percentage of women by specific age groups and concluded that women's offline priorities were mirrored in their online viewing habits. Not surprisingly, women in their child-bearing years flocked to Babygear.com and Pampers.com, for instance, while college-age women spent time at sites selling textbooks.

The site with the highest number of visitors among 35- to 44-year-old women? Alka-Seltzer.com.

Overall, Rickert said, the data suggests what many previous studies have found: that women tend to be more utilitarian in their Internet use than men. The report found that women don't spend time on a lot of different sites, but return to those that save them time and money.

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