Academic journal article Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Working Paper Series

Gender Differences in Information Technology Usage: A U.S.-Japan Comparison

Academic journal article Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Working Paper Series

Gender Differences in Information Technology Usage: A U.S.-Japan Comparison

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study examines whether there are differences in men's and women's use of computers and the Internet in the United States and Japan and how any such gender gaps have changed over time. The authors focus on these two countries because information technology is widely used in both, but there are substantial differences in institutions and social organizations. They use microdata from several surveys during the 1997-2001 period to examine differences and trends in computer and Internet usage in the two countries. Their results indicate that there were significant gender differences in computer and Internet usage in both countries during the mid-1990s. By 2001, these gender differences had disappeared or were even reversed in the United States but remained in Japan. People not currently working have lower levels of IT use and skills in both countries regardless of gender, but working women in Japan have lower levels of IT use and skills than working men, a difference that generally does not occur in the United States. This finding suggests that employment status per se does not play a large role in the gender gap in Japan, but type of employment does. The prevalence of nonstandard employment among female workers in Japan accounts for much of the gender gap in IT use and skills in that country.

JEL classification: O33, L86, J16

Key words: computers, Internet, gender, nonstandard employment

Introduction

This study examines the relationship between gender, work and information technology (IT) use in the United States and Japan. We view digital inequality--unequal access and use of IT across demographic groups--as a social phenomenon and argue that understanding cross-country differences in IT access and use requires a nuanced understanding of social organizations and the institutional context in which inequality is generated.

Our general hypothesis is that gender differences in IT access and use--both at work and at home--reflect gender differences in labor force participation and in types of jobs held. We focus on the U.S. and Japan because IT is widely used in both countries, but there are notable differences between the two countries in institutions and social organizations. In particular, Japan has larger gender differences in wages, labor force participation, and occupational distribution than the U.S. In addition, women in Japan are more likely to be employed in "nonstandard" positions such as part-time jobs and self employment and to have lower human capital investments relative to men than in the U.S. These different social and institutional contexts in Japan and the U.S. may lead to cross-country gender-related differences in IT use. Although several studies have examined whether there is a gender gap in computer and Internet use in the U.S., researchers have not examined the role of work in any such gaps, either within the U.S. or in a cross-country framework.

Our study is motivated by previous studies that link IT use and economic advancement. As IT has become more prevalent, computer literacy--broadly defined as the ability to use information technology and process information--has become an important form of human capital that affects economic success (Levy and Murnane 1996; Reilly 1995). Research has established a positive association between computer use and wages, although the causal linkage is not clear (e.g., DiNardo and Pischke 1997; Krueger 1993, 2000). The digital divide, or the separation of information have's from the have-not's, has become a serious concern because of its potential economic consequences (OECD 2001). In addition, not having computer skills leads to social exclusion as well as economic penalties (Haisken-DeNew and D'Ambrosio 2003), making it important to identify groups that do not have access to IT. This study focuses on gender, using a cross-country analysis to explore the role of work in the digital divide across the sexes. …

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