Social Media and the Gender Gap: What Do You Share?

Article ImageSome say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but when it comes to social media sites, both genders share an array of personal information, including relationship status, brand preferences, and political/religious affiliation. However, when it comes to divulging more sensitive details such as phone numbers, location, and email/physical addresses -- which could put their personal security at risk -- women are significantly more wary than men, according to the findings of the recently released "Social Media Habits and Privacy Concerns Survey."

The nationwide, nine-question survey of 600 adults -- 296 men and 304 women -- about the social media sites they frequent and the kind of information they share online was conducted by uSamp (United Sample, Inc.). The Los Angeles-based firm calls itself "a leader in providing targeted audiences for global consumer insights and innovative SaaS technologies for audience engagement and business intelligence."

The survey offers "compelling insights" into social media behavior, according to Lisa Wilding-Brown, VP of panel operations at uSamp. "The Social Media Habits survey offers compelling insights into consumer behavior and attitudes, especially given the conventional wisdom how we value -- or don't value -- privacy in the social media space," she says.

Among the top findings, uSamp found that "striking differences" exist between men and women when it comes to sharing personal information on sites such as Facebook (used by 81.2% of those surveyed), YouTube (46.2%), Twitter (33.2%), MySpace (32.3%), and others.

While almost three-quarters of men and women were willing to share their relationship status -- and 61.5% were willing to share their religious affiliation -- only 20.1% of women would share their location, compared to 35.3% of men, reports uSamp. In addition, 55.2% of men say they wouldn't mind revealing their email address, but just 41.3% of women would do so. In all, just 7.8% of respondents were willing to share their physical address.

Though uSamp didn't endeavor to find out why respondents answered the way they did, Wilding-Brown has her theories. "I think the media itself will hook on to any kind of story about people getting victimized online with a privacy breach or a stalker," she says. "So some folks I think are pretty guarded because of that."

Wilding-Brown feels such stories "do contribute to the differences," particularly when it comes to women. "I think women in general were sort of raised to be on high alert, and with the advent of social media and the internet world, it just kind of carries naturally into that," she adds.

Among those surveyed who don't participate in social media at all -- 13.2% of the total sample -- the gender split is likewise pronounced: More than 40% of women cited privacy or personal security concerns, compared with 30% of men, uSamp found.

Though the survey -- conducted using SurveyBuilder -- revealed some interesting details about the social media behavior of men and women, Wilding-Brown acknowledges uSamp is just scratching the surface. "I feel like there's more work to do here and would like to explore it a little bit further and understand why you're seeing some of these differences," she says.

"I think it will be the first of potentially several studies I would like to run with the platform because it's really scratching the surface of some interesting and compelling information when it comes to online privacy," adds Wilding-Brown.

In a summary of its findings, uSamp broke the respondents into five categories total and then four age groups for each gender: 18-24, 25-34, 35-49, and 50-plus.

Interestingly, there weren't large differences among the various age-based segments, says Wilding-Brown. "We didn't see a huge disparity across the different age segments, believe it or not," says Wilding-Brown. "It was more between males and females, where females were more vigilant and less likely to share things like email address and physical postal address."

The survey also attempts to gauge overall feelings about social media. One survey question, for example, asked respondents: "Which of these statements best describes how you feel about social media sites?"

The response that received the largest percentage (31.8% in all) out of six was, "They help me find long lost friends and relatives." Among the age segments of 25-34, 40.8% of women and 32.5% of men agree with that statement (the highest percentage for each gender among segments).

Wilding-Brown notes that it's not surprising people feel this way about social media sites, considering they have revolutionized the way we communicate. "You might have friends from back when you were a child and you probably would have never seen them [again] had it not been for the invention of something like Facebook," observes Wilding-Brown. "I think it really changes the way we relate to people and the way we communicate."

For example, "observing/reading profiles" (85.4%) was the activity respondents said they performed most on social media. The next most popular activities were "sharing status updates" (61.8 %) and "commenting on profiles/links" (58.5%).

In addition, a healthy majority of the respondents have made social media a part of their daily lives, as 69.6% of them say they visit such sites daily ("a few times per week" came in a very distant second with 17.5%). Among the segments, the 18-24-year-olds are the most active, with 86.4% of men and 85.7% of women visiting social media sites daily.

One demographic the uSamp survey did not study was the younger-than-18 crowd -- a generation that has grown up on the internet. "We routinely survey 13-plus, so I would recommend that we host a future study where we do a deep dive on the teen population regarding social media usage," says Wilding-Brown. "I think there would be some interesting findings here! We did see some differences among the younger populations in this study, so it would be interesting to see if teens are even more open, given that they have been raised in the social media age. Perhaps they are very desensitized to online privacy issues and as such, [would] not share the same trepidation that older populations do."