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Source: Australian Financial Review

Posted on August 14, 2000

      It is not the beginning of the end, but it may just be the end of the beginning: women now outnumber men in cyberspace, and have brought with them a shift in internet culture. A study released by Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications in the United States found that in May, for the first time in the internet's short history, women represented more than 50 per cent of the online population, with their numbers swelling to 50.4 per cent of users and almost matching those in the real world.

      And with that dominance has come a new way of using the internet, with more emphasis on utility and less on recreation, according to the study.

      It has been the influx of teenage girls that has finally and, most expect, lastingly broken the male stranglehold on the net.

      The number of such users increased like no other group, more than doubling from 1999 to 2000 (up 125 per cent), while the number of women users aged 18 to 24 declined, apparently as they headed off to college and found new interests.

      The study is no bolt from the blue - AOL, the world's largest online service provider, has already reported that women account for 52 per cent of its user base - but it does confirm a trend that has been taking place ever since the general population began moving onto the net in the mid-1990s: the internet population is losing its skews.

      In 1996, when the internet was just starting to become popular, females accounted for just 38 per cent of net users. Last year, according to the same Media Metrix/Jupiter survey of 55,000 users, 45.4 per cent of net users were female.

      Earlier this year, it was level pegging: 50 per cent, and the writing was on the wall for those who clung to the notion that cyberspace was a man's world.

      If anything, women are now slightly over-represented, given that they account for only 51 per cent of the US population.

      One of the authors of the report, Media Metrix analyst Ms. Anne Rickert, says that by the looks of things, growth in the female population of internet users will continue to outstrip growth in the number of male users. The relative normalization of gender numbers does not mean the internet presents a mirror image of the wider world, however.

      Another Jupiter report, released recently, still found a heavy skew towards pornography, which accounted for a third of electronic-commerce revenues. And within the female population reviewed in the latest survey, there were peaks of interest that perhaps do not square off with the non-internet world.

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