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February 9, 2001

Survey reveals gender gap in computer use, interest

by Anne Krapfl
A national gender gap in computer confidence among college freshmen is mirrored at Iowa State, despite an indication from the university's incoming freshmen that they use computers more than college freshmen nationally.

And while female students are more likely than male students to turn to the Internet to do their homework or conduct research, they show less interest in computer careers and less confidence in their computer skills.

These trends were part of the annual survey of freshmen in American colleges and universities conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The first survey was done in fall 1966; Iowa State has participated since 1971.

Nationally, 78.5 percent of last fall's freshman class said they had used a personal computer in the last year. At Iowa State, that number was 84.6 percent, up from 75.4 percent a year ago. However, female students (at Iowa State and nationally) indicated less use of Internet chat rooms and computer and video games than their male counterparts. Female students used the Internet more often than their male colleagues for research or homework and for e-mail communication.

Female students showed less interest in careers as computer programmers or analysts than male students (1.3 percent compared to 10.5 percent on campus) and expressed less confidence in their computer skills than male students. According to survey officials at UCLA, the gender gap in computer confidence last fall is the largest in the history of the survey.

"In a workforce increasingly dependent on technological proficiency, women's relative lack of computing confidence is likely to place them at a disadvantage when it comes to the jobs they are willing to seek out," said Linda Sax, education professor at UCLA and director of the survey.

Computer usage Males Females
Computer skills in top 10 percent or above
average compared with peers
46.4 60.9 23.2 27.3

During the past year:
Frequently used a computer 79.5 86.6 77.8 82.0
Frequently used Web for homework, research 65.6 71.7 69.0 73.3
Frequently communicated via e-mail 62.1 69.6 68.5 75.7
Frequently participated in chat rooms 23.4 26.3 17.1 14.6
Spent 3+ hours/week playing computer games 35.4 37.0 9.6 7.0
Probable career as programmer or analyst 9.3 10.5 1.8 1.3
Source: ISU Office of Institutional Research



Academic expectations: U.S. ISU
Average H.S. grade: A+, A or A- 42.9 53.2
Average H.S. grade: C or lower 6.6 7.0
Believe will need remedial work/tutoring in math 24.3 6.3
Believe will need remedial work/tutoring in writing 10.8 3.1
Very good chance will have at least a "B" average in college 58.1 53.2
Expect to graduate from college with honors 20.7 16.6
Concerns about financing college:    
None (confident will have sufficient funds) 36.3 31.6
Some (but probably will have enough funds) 51.6 59.1
Major (not sure I will have enough funds to finish college) 12.1 9.4
Objectives considered essential or very important:    
Become an "authority" in my field 59.7 56.7
Obtain recognition from colleagues 51.2 50.2
Be well off financially 73.4 72.2
Help others who are in difficulty 61.7 50.1
Agree somewhat or strongly that:    
Marijuana should be legalized 34.2 26.9
Death penalty should be abolished 31.2 28.6
It's important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relationships 27.2 30.7
Same-sex couples should have right to legal marital status 56.0 51.4
Source: ISU Office of Institutional Research

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