Gender differences in social network service use

Words, phrases, and topics most highly distinguishing English-speaking females and males in social media in 2013

Men and women use social network services (SNSs) differently and in different frequencies. In general, several researchers have found that women tend to use SNSs more than men and for different and more social purposes.

Historical connections

Technologies, including communications technologies, have a long history of shaping and being shaped by the gender of their users. Although technologies used to perform housework have an apparent historical connection to gender in many cultures,[1] a more ready connection to SNSs may be drawn with telephones as a communications technology readily and widely available in the home. Telephone use has long had gendered connections ranging from the widespread assumption that women simply talk more than men, and the employment of women as telephone operators. In particular, young women have been closely associated with extensive and trivial use of the telephone for purely social purposes.[2][3] Similarly, women's use of and influence on the development of computers has been trivialized[4] while significant developments in computers have been masculinized.[5] Thus the idea that there may be both real and perceived differences in how men and women use SNSs – and that those uses may shape the SNSs – is neither new nor surprising and has historical analogues.

There is historical and contemporary evidence that current fears about young girls' online safety have historical antecedents such as telegraphs and telephones. Further, in many cases those historical reactions resulted in restrictions of girls' use of technology to protect them from predators, molesters, and other criminals threatening their innocence. Like current fears focused on computer use, particularly SNSs and other communication media, these fears are most intense when the medium enters the home. These fears have the potential to – at least temporarily – overwhelm the positive and empowering uses of these technologies.[6] These historical fears are echoed in contemporary media accounts of youths' use of SNSs.

Finally, the histories of some SNSs themselves have ties with gender. For example, gay men were one of the earliest groups to join and use the early SNS Friendster.[7]


Predilection for usage

Many studies have found that women are more likely to use either specific SNSs such as Facebook[8][9] or MySpace[10][11][12] or SNSs in general.[13] At least one study, however, found that Facebook as well as LinkedIn users were more likely to be male.[10]

Researchers who have examined the gender of users of multiple SNSs have found contradictory results. Hargittai's groundbreaking 2007 study examining race, gender, and other differences between undergraduate college student users of SNSs found that women were not only more likely to have used SNSes than men but that they were also more likely to have used many different services, including Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster; these differences persisted in several models and analyses. Although she only surveyed students at one institution – the University of Illinois at Chicago – Hargittai selected that institution intentionally as "an ideal location for studies of how different kinds of people use online sites and services."[14] In contrast, data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that men were more likely to have multiple SNS profiles. Although the sample sizes of the two surveys are comparable – 1,650 Internet users in the Pew survey[10] compared with 1,060 in Hargittai's survey[14] – the data from the Pew survey are newer and arguably more representative of the entire adult United States population.[15]


In general, women seem to use SNSs more to explicitly foster social connections. Female participants in a multi-stage study conducted in 2007 to discover the motivations of Facebook users scored higher on scales for social connection and posting of photographs.[9] Similarly, in a study of blogs maintained in MySpace, women were found to be more likely to not only write blogs but also write about family, romantic relationships, friendships, and health in those blogs.[16] A study of Swedish SNS users found that women were more likely to have expressions of friendship, specifically in the areas of (a) publishing photos of their friends, (b) specifically naming their best friends, and (c) writing poems to and about their friends. Women were also more likely to have expressions related to family relationships and romantic relationships. One of the key findings of this research is that those men who do have expressions of romantic relationships in their profile had expressions just as strong as the women. However, the researcher speculated that this may be in part due to a desire to publicly express heterosexual behaviors and mannerisms instead of merely expressing romantic feelings.[17]

A large-scale study of gender differences in MySpace found that both men and women tended to have a majority of female Friends, and both men and women tended to have a majority of female "Top" Friends in the site.[18] A later study found women to author disproportionately many (public) comments in MySpace,[19] but an investigation into the role of emotion in public MySpace comments found that women both give and receive stronger positive emotion.[20] It was hypothesised that women are simply more effective at using social networking sites because they are better able to harness positive emotion.


Privacy has been the primary topic of many studies of SNS users, and many of these studies have found differences between male and female SNS users, although some studies have found results contradictory to those found in other studies.

Some researchers have found that women are more protective of their personal information and more likely to have private profiles.[9][12][21] Other researchers have found that women are less likely to post some types of information. Acquisti and Gross found that women in their sample were less likely to reveal their sexual orientation, personal address, or cell phone number.[8] This is similar to Pew Internet & American Life research of children users of SNSs that found that boys and girls presented different views of privacy and behaviors, with girls being more concerned about and restrictive of information such as city, town, last name, and cell phone number that could be used to locate them.[22] At least one group of researchers has found that women are less likely to share information that "identifies them directly – last name, cell phone number, and address or home phone number," linking that resistance to women's greater concerns about "cyberstalking", "cyberbullying", and security problems.[11]

Despite these concerns about privacy, researchers have found that women are more likely to maintain up-to-date photos of themselves.[23][24] Further, Kolek and Saunders found in their sample of college student Facebook users that women were more likely to not only post a photograph of themselves in their profile but that they were more likely to have a publicly viewable Facebook account (a contradictory finding compared to many other studies), post photos, and post photo albums.[23]

Women were more likely to have: (a) a publicly viewable Facebook account, (b) more photo albums, (c) more photos, (d) a photo of themselves as their profile picture, (e) positive references to alcohol, partying, or drugs, and (f) more positive references to or about the institution or institution-related activities. In general, women were more likely to disclose information about themselves in their Facebook profile, with the primary exception of sharing their telephone number.[23] Similarly, female respondents to Strano's study were more likely to keep their profile photo recent and choose a photo that made them appear attractive, happy, and fun-loving. Citing several examples, Strano opined that there may also be a difference in how men and women Facebook users display and interpret profile photos depicting relationships.[24]


Although men and women users of SNSs exhibit different behavior and motivations, they share some similarities. For example, one study that examined the veracity of information shared on SNSs by college students found that men and women were as likely to "provide accurate and complete information about their birthday, schedule of classes, partner's name, AIM, or political views."[8]

In contradiction to several of the studies described above that found that women are more likely to be SNS users, at least one very reputable study has found that men and women are equally likely to be SNS users. Data gathered in December 2008 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that the SNS users in their sample were equally divided among men and women.[10] As mentioned above, the data from the Pew survey are newer and arguably more representative of the entire adult United States population[15] than the data in much of the previously described research.

Traditional gender roles

Some studies have found that traditional gender roles are present in SNSs, with men in this study conforming to traditional views of masculinity and the women to traditional views of femininity.[25] Qualitative work with college student SNS users by Martínez Alemán and Wartman[25] and Managgo et al.[26] have found similar results for both Facebook and MySpace users. Moreover, the work by Managgo et al. discovered not only traditional gender roles and images but sexualisation of women users of MySpace.[26] Similarly, research into the impact of comments in the profile of a Facebook users on that user's perceived attractiveness revealed a "sexual double standard", wherein negative statements resulted in male profile owners being judged more attractive and female profile owners less attractive.[27] Finally, at least one study has found that men and women SNS users both left textual clues about their gender.[12]

Other gender identities in social networking

In February 2014, Facebook announced the vast expansion of options for choosing gender identities to list on profiles, ranging to up to 56 gender identity choices.[28][29] In August 2014, Facebook followed up with allowing gender-neutral relationship identities for identifying family members.[30]

See also


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  9. 1 2 3 Joinson, A. N. (2008). "'Looking at', 'Looking up' or 'Keeping up with' people? Motives and uses of Facebook". CHI 2008 Proceedings: 1027–1036.
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  14. 1 2 Hargittai, E. (2007). "Whose space? Differences among users and non-users of social network sites". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13 (1). Retrieved February 20, 2009.
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  21. Lewis, K., Kaufman, J., & Christakis, N. (2008). "The taste for privacy: An analysis of college student privacy settings in an online social network". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 14 (1): 79–100. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2008.01432.x.
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  23. 1 2 3 Kolek, E. A., & Saunders, D. (2008). "Online disclosure: An empirical examination of undergraduate Facebook profiles". NASPA Journal. 45 (1): 1–25. doi:10.2202/1949-6605.1905.
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