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Women, men have different goals online

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DALLAS - Men spend their time on the Internet looking for stuff to do. Women look for people to talk to.

These are among the main findings to emerge from a series of surveys released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Deborah Fallows, a senior research fellow with Pew, said that men and women have become equally adept at navigating the Internet.

"Beyond that, there seems to be a little of a fork in the road," she said.

"Men are more action-oriented, and women are more communication-oriented."

Men go online more often and spend more time on the Internet than women.

For example, men are more likely to check sports news (59 vs. 27 percent of online women), get financial information (56 vs. 33 percent), download software (48 vs. 31 percent) or participate in an auction (30 vs. 18 percent).

Men (42 percent) are also more likely to pay bills online than women (35 percent).

Women lead in other areas, such as sending e-mail (94 vs. 88 percent).

And 74 percent of women look up health and medical information online, compared with 58 percent of men.

"Right now, online life mirrors off-line life very closely," said Fallows, the report's author.

"I was surprised at that. I was looking really hard to find counter trends and just find things that either broke the stereotype or changed what you typically believe."

Online retailers and other vendors should pay attention to the findings, Fallows said.

She said, for example, that when shopping in clothing stores, women often chat with one another in the dressing room, looking for tips and opinions.

For an online retailer catering to women, building a message board or chat room into the site might allow similar interactions, letting uncertain shoppers get feedback from satisfied customers.

"If you were a savvy Web designer and had this stuff in mind, you might make some of the shopping experience more tailored," Fallows said.

One finding that Fallows said was somewhat counterintuitive was that a greater percentage of women ages 18 to 29 are online than men that age: 86 percent vs. 80 percent.

"Technology doesn't seem to be an impediment for the youngest women the way it is for older women," she said. "They've grown up with it."

The report included data from a variety of surveys conducted from 2000 to 2005, and the margin of error ranges between 2 and 3 percentage points.


(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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