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Actual versus Perceived Online Abilities: The Difference Gender Makes (WP-05-09)

Eszter Hargittai and Steven Shafer

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. There has been little work exploring gender differences with respect to Internet-use ability, especially based on a diverse sample of adult users. 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. 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. We discuss the implications of these findings for social inequality with respect to Internet use.

Eszter Hargittai, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Steven Shafer, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, Princeton University

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