The Persistence of Status Differentials in Computer Conferencing


  • This project was funded by Texas Christian University and the University of Colorado at Denver. We appreciate the contributions of Sundeep Sahay, Bruce Neumann, Jack Krackower and Jeff Heyl to this study. We also appreciate the comments of Ron Rice, Kirk Downey, Mike Newman, and Rick Boettger on earlier drafts of this article. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Carol Saunders, Department of Decision and Information Systems, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida 33431–0991.


One feature of electronic communication media is its potential to remove the effects of occupational role identity. For better or for worse, electronic communication technologies may reduce occupational status differentials and allow individuals to communicate as equals. This article reports results from a study of health-care professionals engaged in an educational program using computer conferences over a five-month period. Results show that the content and network of communication among health-care professionals using the computer conference were significantly related to occupational roles. Specifically, physicians and hospital administrators were afforded higher status in computer conferences than nurses. The effects of occupational status differentials were manifest and became more established with greater use of the computer conferencing system. Status characteristics derived from the educational task also appeared to affect communication patterns. The importance of considering multiple social contexts when implementing information technology is discussed.