We have the great pleasure today at the Berkman Center of hearing from Eszter Hargittai, a prof at Northwestern, on her large-scale research project on how 18 / 19-year-olds use digital technologies. She’s also worked on problems related to what she calls the “second-level digital divide” over the past decade or so. She surveyed over 1000 students at the UIC, one of the most diverse research universities.
A set of important take-aways: she’s found a correlation between gender and the likelihood of creating and sharing digital content (women were less likely to share content online that they’ve created than men). But it turns out that skill level is actually the relevant factor, not gender: if you correct for skill-level, the gender difference goes away. She is also trying to figure out what these gaps mean in terms of opportunities for life chances.
Her research hones in on the fact that what matters are skill differences, not just technology access differences, when it comes to digital inequality. We need to provide training and education for kids in addition to access to the network. These findings — good news for her — are consistent with Eszter’s extensive body of work to date. And she’s plainly right. (This is much of what Urs Gasser and I are arguing in our book, Born Digital; we have to figure out how to say it half as elegantly as Eszter does.)
Eszter has an article coming out very soon, in a volume co-edited by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison, which makes a related set of claims. Her data inform the question of who uses social-networking sites (SNS). Women, she finds, are more likely to use SNSes than men (other than in the context of Xanga, where the numbers are reversed). People of with parents with lower academic backgrounds (which apparently correlates to lower social-economic status, (SES), backgrounds) are more likely to be MySpace users, and those with parents with higher educational backgrounds are more likely to use Facebook. (These data lead to conclusions much like what danah boyd claimed recently, and which kicked up a bit of a storm. See the 297 comments on danah’s blog.)
(Separately: she’s also got thoughtful comments on her blog about our pending Cookie Crumbles video contest.)