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The Female/Male Digital Divide

4 minute read | March 2014

In today’s digital and social media-driven world, consumers have the world at their fingertips, but are men and women’s fingers doing the same thing? A closer look into today’s rapidly evolving digital behaviors highlights the differences between what engages men and women—as well as how they react (or don’t) along the way.


Our mobile devices play a significant role in our everyday lives. Their diverse and extensive range of capabilities offers something for just about everyone. And that’s a good thing, particularly when we look at the key features that appeal to both men and women, which aren’t always the same.

Globally, while more men gravitate toward tech-savvy mobile phone attributes like operating system (48% men vs. 41% women), battery life (48% vs. 44%), screen size (38% vs. 34%) and processor speed (41% vs. 31%) when shopping for a new device, more women are influenced by price (72% women vs. 67% men), service contract terms (27% vs. 25%) and camera capability (32% vs. 30%).

When thinking about your next mobile phone purchase, what criteria are most important in your decision? (Global Average)

Criteria Men Women
Price 67% 72%
Phone features 49% 48%
Battery life 48% 44%
Operating system (Android, IOS, RIM) 48% 41%
Internet connectivity 42% 39%
Processor speed 41% 31%
Screen size 38% 34%
Handset Style/Design 34% 35%
Camera capability 30% 32%
Wireless carrier (AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Orange, etc.) 27% 26%
Service contract terms 25% 27%
Source: Nielsen Global Survey, Q1 2013

That’s not to say that women aren’t embracing technology. In fact, quite the opposite can be true—especially when it comes to social media usage.


There’s no denying the impact that social media is having on how people connect with each other. And for the most part, both men and women around the world agree that the growth of social media as a news source is more positive (78%) than negative (22%). In fact, a greater percentage of women (28%) get more than 50 percent of their news from social media sources than men (25%).

But as the word “social” implies, we aren’t using social media just to get the news. And in that respect, findings from a Nielsen online global survey show that globally, women are connecting for social reasons more than men. In fact, staying in contact with family and friends is the top reason women use social media (65% vs. 53% for men). More women also use social media than men as a creative outlet, particularly for blogging and uploading/sharing photos (28% women vs. 23% men) and for entertainment purposes (48% women vs. 45% men).

Comparatively, more men use social media than women for business reasons (27% vs. 22% for women), but less than women for “how to, information, and self-help” needs (30% men vs. 37% for women). Men are also twice as likely as women to use social media for dating (13% vs. 7% for women).


Trust is the foundation for any healthy relationship. This sentiment is particularly relevant online, and there are notable differences between how men and women view and act on what they come across in their daily lives—whether it be within their social media environs, on the Web, or even when they see a billboard ad on their way to work.

In terms of advertising, men appear slightly more trusting overall than women. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising survey shows that more men trust branded websites (69% men vs. 68% women), ads on TV (63% men vs. 61% women), ads in newspapers (63% men vs. 60% women), ads in magazines (61% men vs. 59% women) and ads on the radio (57% men vs. 56% women) than women. While “complete trust” is low across the board for both sexes, responses from women are notably lower. For example, 11 percent of men say they completely trust magazine ads, compared with only 6 percent of women.

So what types of ads do resonate with men and women around the world?

Men Women Both
Car themes Sentimental themes Humor
Sports themes Family oriented themes Aspirational themes
High energy/action Real-life situations Value
Sexual themes Pets & kids Celebrity endorsements
Source: Nielsen Global Survey, Q1 2013

When it comes to taking action on the advertising we see, the media we come across seems to inspire fewer women globally than men. In fact, a greater percentage of women say they do not take action compared to men across the board. For example, 48 percent of women say they never take action on social media ads, compared with 42 percent of men. For ads featured on more traditional media, 40 percent of women say they never take action based on newspaper ads, compared with 32 percent of men. More women (59%) also do not take action on mobile phone text ads compared with men (52%).

So as companies and brands expand their communication and engagement digitally, understanding both sides of the gender divide is critically important for reaching and engaging the right consumers with the right messages.


This article is based on findings from three recent Nielsen global surveys: Q3 2012, Q1 2013 and Q3 2013. The findings are based on survey respondents with online access across 58+ countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.

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