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

Authors: Eszter Hargitta and Steven Shafer

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Citation: Hargittai, E. & Shafer, S. (2006). Differences in Actual and Perceived Online Skills: The Role of Gender. Social Science Quarterly. 87(2), 432-448.


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. 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.


  • Introduction
  • Gender and Technology Use
    • Attitudes toward technologies and technical competencies
    • Experience using computers and the Web
  • Data and Methodology
    • Sampling
    • Study session
    • Sample descriptives
  • Findings
    • Differences in Web-use skill
    • Differences in online abilities between men and women
  • Discussion & Conclusion


We would like to thank Marcy Carlson, Laura Clawson, Paul DiMaggio, Shane Greenstein, Robert Max Jackson, Alexandra Kalev, and Caroline Hodges Persell for helpful suggestions. We are also 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 would also like to 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 for its support.

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