Gender models and types of evidence for them | 07/31/2006 | Internet raises gender gap
This gender gap, which affects everything from the marketing of new technology to attracting more women for engineering careers, is elegantly illustrated in an academic study just published by a researcher from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Eszter Hargittai tested and interviewed 51 women and 49 men drawn from a wide range of age, income and education levels. Each person was placed in front of a computer and asked to complete a series of common online tasks, such as locating job listings, downloading tax forms and finding movie starting times.

Hargittai, an assistant professor of sociology and communication studies at Northwestern, then asked each person to rate their ability in using the Internet.

When all the data was assembled and analyzed, Hargittai uncovered ``no statistically significant difference between men's and women's ability to find content on the Web,'' after taking into account external factors such as income, education and years of online experience.

Yet, Hargittai wrote in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, ``Men are more likely to think of themselves as better skilled than women. In fact, not one woman thought of herself as an `expert' user, and not one man thought of himself as a complete novice.''

The data ``suggests that gender is a very strong predictor of how one rates one's Internet-user skills; being female leads to a significantly lower self-assessment of skill.''


I also called several experts on technology's gender gap, and none of them were surprised by Hargittai's results. 

It is the last sentence that is the important bit here. I, of course, was also not surprised but it is interesting that so many people either are surprised or are willing to ignore evidence like because it doesn't conform to conceptual models of gender. (Of course, they accuse people like me, of ignoring all the genetic/demographic, etc. evidence).

There's lot of unconscious sexism in the technology business. Hargittai, in a phone interview, pointed to the common expression for dead-simple technology: ``It's so easy your grandmother can use it.'' No one every says, ``It's so easy your grandfather can use it.''

This is a great example of how conceptual models can be represented through language. However, the question (and one for a different time) is how reliable these representations are as evidence for said conceptual models.