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Differences in Actual and Perceived Online Skills: The Role of Gender


  • *Direct correspondence to Eszter Hargittai, Department of Communication Studies, 2240 Campus Dr., Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208 〈〉. The data used in this study are available to scholars for the purpose of replication We are grateful to Susan Lutz and Inna Barmash for their assistance with data collection and we appreciate the logistical help from Hank Farber and Betty Leydon. We also express our gratitude to the many people who took time from their busy schedules to participate in this study. Generous support from the Markle Foundation and NSF Grant IIS0086143 is kindly acknowledged. The project has also been supported in part by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, and through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University. The first author is also grateful to the Dan David Foundation and the Northwestern University Department of Communication Studies Research Fund for their support.


Objective. The literature on gender and technology use finds that women and men differ significantly in their attitudes toward their technological abilities. Concurrently, existing work on science and math abilities of students suggests that such perceived differences do not always translate into actual disparities. We examine the yet-neglected area concerning gender differences with respect to Internet-use ability. In particular, we test how self-perceived abilities are related to actual abilities and how these may differ by gender.

Methods. We use new data on web-use skill to test empirically whether there are differences in men's and women's abilities to navigate online content. We draw on a diverse sample of adult Internet users to investigate the questions raised.

Results. Findings suggest that men and women do not differ greatly in their online abilities. However, we find that women's self-assessed skill is significantly lower than that of men.

Conclusions. Women's lower self-assessment regarding their web-use skills may affect significantly the extent of their online behavior and the types of uses to which they put the medium. We discuss the implications of these findings for social inequality.