In a significant reversal over the past three years, many more young women than men indicate they feel as strongly about their online communities as their real world ones, according to researchers at the University of Southern California.
The researchers found 67 percent of women under 40 said they feel as strongly about their Internet communities as their offline ones, while only 38 percent of men said the same.
In 2007 the numbers were reversed, with 69 percent of men and 35 percent of women feeling the same way.
Michael Gilbert, senior fellow at USC’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, says growing interest in online communities and social networking by younger women reflects historic adoption patterns.
"Women have been a bit more cautious with new technologies but they generally catch up and often exceed men in their enthusiasm once they’ve had a chance to look around. Men tend to charge in to new technologies and the opportunities they enable."
But, says Gilbert, "there are some early signs men may be over the infatuation and are starting to check out."
Nearly half of young women say they’ve met offline with an online community contact, compared to just over a third of men under forty (48% vs.36%); in 2006 the percentage was the same for women, but 59 percent of younger males had met offline with an online community contact.
Both sexes, of all ages, report they receive considerable benefits from their online community, but younger male enthusiasm is waning. In 2005, 77 percent of men under forty said their online community was very or extremely important; just 39 percent say that now. This drop off of interest is reported even though men generally are more likely than women to say they’re contributing to their Internet community (84% vs. 69%).
Even with the early signs of networking fatigue among younger men, their online connections count for something since 40 percent acknowledge their Internet community involvements have decreased the time available for their offline communities. Women are closing the gap with 27 percent saying their memberships in online communities has resulted in a reduction in time spent in their offline ones.
The survey also found women of all ages have a wider range of online community interests, putting more emphasis on social, spiritual and relationship aspects. Gilbert believes these deeper personal and social interests likely account for the increasing importance women place on their online communities.