The New ICTs: Age, Gender and the Family

This report is essentially on the family. We break this down into three elements: age, gender and family relationships. Each is distinct, and yet all three they overlap. Age is a part of the lifecycle which is itself critical to the family. Gender distinctions derive in part from traditional family patterns and norms. Family relationships vary by age and gender.

Age is a relationship. A person is young or old relative to people of other ages. Gender is also a relationship. This report is about ICT behaviour in the context of relationships of age, of gender, and the relationships expressed in types of family – couples, couples with children, lone parents, and so on. Our core concern is how far we can view ICT behaviour as deriving from such relationships rather than solely as
an aspect of an individual’s resources and preferences.

Some of the outcomes of the research are highly predictable. Older people use the new ICTs less than young people, women less than men. But the report goes further than this in three ways. First, it examines the causes of these differences, and their source is not to be found simply in age and gender but in aspects of life which tend to come with these but which are not inevitable. Above all, people at the upper extreme of age tend to be poorer than younger people; women have lower incomes than men. After retirement age work unsurprisingly declines, while women, although most work, work less than men on average. Work
supplies resources which are necessary to buy and support new ICTs. Moreover, it often supplies training and experience in ICT usage. Thus it is not age or gender themselves which limit ICT behaviour – that is, fear of or inexperience in technology plays a rather minor role – but differential resources.

Second, the research reveals the variety of behaviour within age groups and within gender. Not all old people fail to use new ICTs. The real cut-off point is extreme old age. The ICT behaviour of men and women overlap to a large degree (that is, a substantial proportion of women are adept with the new
technologies while a substantial proportion of men are not). There is therefore polarisation both within age groups and within genders. In addition, because work experience is critical to ICT behaviour, and because the work gap between men and women is closing, it appears that the ICT gap between men and women is also closing. But for those women whose employment is marginal, or even for those who work extensively but whose work is routine and not well-paid, the contrast is as much in respect of other women, especially those in the professions, as with men. Thus, polarisation amongst women can be extreme.

Third, we look at family relationships, which have hitherto been the subject of very little quantitative research.
Two main findings emerge. One is that the presence of children has a major effect on ICT ownership. Families are in particular likely to have a computer even when resources are low. This implied preference therefore reverses the previous finding of the supremacy of resources, though the latter is always important. The other is that while members of a couple tend to be similar in their characteristics and behaviour, the focus of their computer usage seems to overlap very little. This is perhaps partly because this usage is itself gendered (games and perhaps porn for men, education for women) but also because the computer is not a
family thing. If the TV and the phone have in many homes become individualised the computer starts this way. It therefore exemplifies the increasing fragmentation of family life.

The report is a Chapter 5 at e-Living "D14: Book Manuscript". All Chapters can be downloaded at

Publication date: 
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Year of publication: 

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