Women closing gap in Net use, report finds; Study: Researchers also conclude that using e-mail and other online activities can enhance social lives, contrary to popular belief.


Nine million women went online for the first time in the past six months in the United States, bringing "gender parity" to the once male-dominated Internet, according to a wide-ranging study released last week.

The study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also found that the Internet is enhancing social interactions, contrary to results of a February study by Stanford University, which said too much Internet use turned some individuals into recluses.

"E-mail use has improved communication," said Lee Rainie, the new study's director. Instead of fostering isolation, he said, "it's being used to enrich and deepen" people's lives and relationships.

Rainie's study said longtime and heavy Internet users -- those online more than two hours a day -- were just as likely as anyone else to have visited or phoned a friend or family member in the day before being polled for the study.

The study called e-mail "the isolation antidote."

That is true, Maria Campomizzi said Wednesday. Campomizzi, 80, of Hulmeville, Pa., said getting an Internet connection three years ago to surf the Web and trade e-mail with friends and her adopted grandson restored her social life.

As a widow living by herself, Campomizzi said, "I was very, very alone." But when she got her Internet-connected computer three years ago, she said, "I was, all of a sudden, able to go out without leaving the house."

The Pew study was based on random March telephone interviews with 3,533 adults, of whom 1,690 were Internet users. The margin of error for results from the Internet users was plus or minus 3 percent.

The total number of Internet users in the United States grew to 90 million during the past six months, with the addition of 9 million women and 6.5 million men, according to the study.

Though women do not go online as often as men, they are more likely than men to use e-mail for staying in touch with family and friends and for enhancing their deepest relationships, the study said.

Women are also more likely to seek health and religious information, look for jobs and play games online, it said. Men are more likely to go online for news, stock quotes, sports and product information.

The study found that among Internet users, 71 percent of women, compared with 61 percent of men, said e-mail improved their connections with close friends. More women than men said they communicated more with friends and family since adopting e-mail.

"My husband tried to tell me how neat it was to communicate [via e-mail] with neighbors," wrote Susan Davis, an anthropologist from Haverford, Pa., in an e-mail Wednesday from a cybercafe in Marrakech, Morocco, where she is leading a study trip. "But I wasn't convinced until I got immediate replies to e-mail from friends in Cairo and Kyrgyzstan." That was six years ago, and Davis, who is in her 50s, said she has been hooked on e-mail ever since.

"Women, even the newcomers, are pretty quick to embrace e-mail and to use it in this connections way and to feel good about that," Rainie said.

The study, which was funded by a $5.9 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that 55 million Americans -- about 60 percent of those with Internet access -- use the Internet daily at work, at home or both.

In other findings based on daily polling of Internet users through March, the study said that only about 35 percent of African-Americans are online, compared with 50 percent of whites and 46 percent of Hispanics.

But, in results similar to those of other studies, the Pew numbers indicated that blacks are the fastest-growing group of online denizens. In fact, 30 percent of African-American Internet users got online in the past six months.

"There are millions of African-American people online right now. It really is a booming market," said Omar Wasow, executive director of BlackPlanet.com, an online community targeted to African-Americans.

Wasow said his 8-month-old Web site was getting more traffic than those of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and he credits that to BlackPlanet.com's emphasis on community. "My site is highly, highly social, and at its core is about connecting people to each other as opposed to connecting people to information," he said.

Rainie said the daily polling of Internet users by his group would continue under the study for much of the next two years.

Information: www.pewinternet.org.

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