Gender and Perceived Internet Efficacy: Examining Secondary Digital Divide Issues in Singapore

Article excerpt

This article provides a critical discussion and empirical investigation of secondary digital divide factors, including gendered variations in Internet use. Analyses were conducted on data obtained from 716 respondents, who were self-reported Internet users based on a nation-wide telephone survey in Singapore. Results showed that females and males differed significantly in terms of their perceived Internet efficacy and identified various factors including socio-economic status, perceived Internet efficacy, and gender that undergird Internet use. Keywords: digital divide, gender, Internet efficacy, Singapore.

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Concerns about informational inequities have been raised over the last two decades following the proliferation of the Internet and other web-based technologies. In the background of globalization and an increased dependency on digital products, services, and communications, Internet access and use has become pertinent for economic growth, political participation, and social inclusion (Castells, 2000). In the United States, the "digital divide" has emerged as the lingua franca encapsulating much research in the stratification patterns and inequalities relating to Internet adoption and use. However, Miller (2001) notes that studies in other industrial societies are needed to illuminate the international variations in stratification processes that underlie the use of information technology, as the term digital divide is often used within a purely U.S.-centric context, referring specifically to the disparities in access to information and the growing underclass on the North American continent. The nature and scope of the digital divide is dependent on various measurement indices, which differ between contexts and from country to country. In recent years, a number of measures have been developed to benchmark Internet growth rates, including measures of Internet adoption rates and Internet bandwidth, individual frequency of access, time online, intensity, and centrality of use. For example, in the second phrase of World Summit of Information Society at Tunis, a report of core ICT (information and communication technology) indicators for development comprehensively documented indices for ICT infrastructure, use of ICT by businesses, households, and individuals, and trade in ICT goods (United Nations, 2005). In South East Asia, the measurement of Internet access is dependent on estimates and sometimes difficulties in obtaining complete information about telephone and Internet subscription rates in developing regions (Minges, 2001), while Internet growth rates in terms of Internet subscribers and cable capacity in the relatively more developed nations including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea have been closely tracked and reported in books by key Internet scholars (e.g., Castells, 2000; Van Dijk, 2005).

Although past studies have highlighted the role of gender as one facet of the digital divide (e.g. Bimber, 2000; Lift & Shepherd, 2004; Losh, 2004; Shade, 1998), more recent reports seem to sideline the importance of gender. This position is supported by the apparent increasing Internet adoption rates among both males and females as publicized in prominent telecommunications reports, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce (2002) report entitled "A Nation Online." Yet it is important to track gender differences in Internet usage after adoption because structural disparities may endure to produce deepening gaps and relative inequalities in Internet use (Van Dijk, 2005). Groups that have lower usage rates risk being excluded from job and educational opportunities as well as losing political influence as the Internet becomes increasingly important to how people live and work (Norris, 2001).

This paper examines the nature of the digital divide in Singapore, particularly in regard to the relationships between gender and Internet efficacy. This research focuses on the secondary digital divide concerning Internet use at home and at work, rather than the primary divide of Internet adoption due to the pervasive adoption of the Internet in Singapore. …