Women beat 18-34 men for tech adoption and purchasing power

An interesting piece from The Atlantic's Alex Madrigal points out that the coveted 18-34 male demographic is no longer the most important force in technology consumption and purchasing. He quotes Intel anthropologist and all-round awesomesauce dispenser Genevieve Bell's research, which shows that women lead tech adoption in "internet usage, mobile phone voice usage, mobile phone location-based services, text messaging, Skype, every social networking site aside from LinkedIn, all Internet-enabled devices, e-readers, health-care devices, and GPS. Also, because women still are the primary caretakers of children in many places, guess who controls which gadgets the young male and female members of the family get to purchase or even use?"

Of course, the neglect of women -- and other groups of systematically disenfranchised people, like gblt people and people of color -- is a recurring theme in the history of business. And periodically (generally in the midst of a recession that makes the previously unthinkable into the inevitable), some industry will figure out that there's a group of people whom they've ignored or held in contempt with a lot of money on their hands, and you get a new boom of targeted products, media and advertising. And exploitation, of course. Lots of exploitation.

Terry O'Reilly's "Age of Persuasion" podcast has done some good episodes on these turns in advertising history -- here's one on women, one on people of color, and one on gblt-targeted ads.

How can an industry get its market so wrong?

One huge reason is the relative lack of women at major venture capital firms, startups, electronics makers, and Internet companies. The other huge reason is the historical erasure of women's roles in the history of technology, as Xeni Jardin pointed out in response to a New York Times article that overemphasized the role men have played in the creation of the Internet. When you look around, it *seems* as if technology is by and for dudes, but the reality is much more complicated than that.

But even if you are the biggest sexist in Menlo Park, even if you believe that only men create technology, even if you are real-life Jack Donaghy hell bent on profits alone, you'd still want to change your approach to women as technology consumers. Follow the money and follow the users: you'll find yourself in a female-dominated landscape.

Bell concludes: "So it turns out if you want to find out what the future looks like, you should be asking women. And just before you think that means you should be asking 18-year-old women, it actually turns out the majority of technology users are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. So if you wanted to know what the future looks like, those turn out to be the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies on the planet as we speak."

Sorry, Young Man, You're Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech (via /.)


  1. This comes as a lack of surprise to me— as a kid who played all the casual games he could get his hands on, it came as something of a shock to learn the target demographic (middle-aged women). Now, I’m not surprised that, as go the games, so go the devices.

  2. The way this is written, it’s unclear to me whether we are comparing men to women or men aged 18-34 to women of all ages.  I read the article, and it says ” it actually turns out the majority of technology users are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.”

    So are we now saying that women 40-69 are a more important demographic than men 18-34?   I’d really like to see a chart broken down by age and gender, so I can more clearly understand what is being asserted.  If we are talking about women of all ages versus men of all ages, why specify an age group here?  If we are talking about women of one age group versus men of a different age group, why only specify the male age group?

    I just want to see the data all laid out in nice pretty colors, instead of vague text.  Is that so wrong?

      1.  I thought the same thing.  They say women lead men in GPS ownership, but I wonder how many of them came from “I bought my wife a new Garmin for Christmas” or “she used it more than me, so I just gave it to her” kind of thing.  I also noticed the specificity of GPS, health-care machines (whatever that is) and e-readers, called out in the article, but strangely no mention of MP3 players, tablets, netbooks, etc.

        Just thinking about the way the devices are split up in my household, my wife has an iPod she purchased herself.  The rest of her electronics (smartphone, e-reader, laptop, appleTV, etc) were all bought by me or other men in the family .  I have a laptop, smartphone, ipod, desktop, tablet, etc etc etc… all of which were male purchases.  So while the USAGE is close to an even split, the purchasing is easily 90% male.

        I’m not saying that the article is wrong.  My household could very well be an exception.  But I can say without a doubt that where I live, the young male is giving all the money to the electronics companies.

        Now that I’m really thinking about it, though…  My mother, mother-in-law, sister-in law, and wife all have Kindles, all bought as gifts from men, and all the men have ZERO interest in the devices.  So there’s clearly an overwhelming bias in that direction.

        1. I bought the first computer in our household for ME. My husband (a member of that juicy 18-34 male demographic) wanted nothing to do with it … until he realized he could compose, record and perform music on it. Then I had to arm wrestle him for the darn thing.

          I bought all my computers until I switched from PCs to Macs which my husband ordered because he works for Apple and gets a discount. My day job was as a computer-based training designer and team leader until I started writing full time. Most of my development staff was female. I run three blogs and I know as many women who are web masters and designers as I do men. 

          My husband bought me my iPad because, again, he could get the family and friends discount and he knew I wanted one so I didn’t have to haul my laptop on trips with me. The point is that it was MY desire for the device that caused it to be purchased. 

          So, while it’s tempting to think that the marketers should address the men who are buying the devices—why? It’s the women who want the device whether or not they actually purchase it. As you note, more women are interested in the devices than men so whether they buy them themselves or express their interest to a man who buys them as a gift, it comes down to more women consumers of high tech, right?

    1. Then again, if you just read the headline you might wonder why a group of women so resented men for their tech adoption and purchasing power that the resorted to beating them. Also, why the number of victims couldn’t be pinned down more precisely than 18-34.

  3. With the increasing focus on social and such, this should not really surprise. Mom often played NES games (mostly the kinds that had some kind of simultaneous two player), and these days she is a heavy user of mobile phone and facebook. Hell, she was the one to push for us kids to get mobile phones when we started moving away for higher education.

  4. In “internet usage, mobile phone voice usage, mobile phone location-based services, text messaging, Skype, every social networking site aside from LinkedIn, all Internet-enabled devices, e-readers, health-care devices, and GPS.

    Not too surprising to this man. Of all of those things, Internet usage is really the only thing I’m interested in, with perhaps a minor interest in e-readers. The rest hold not much interest to me, appearing more as distractions or shiny baubles than anything of real substance. But I realize that’s only my own opinion: one person’s necessity is another person’s “huh? that’s a necessity?”

    To wax a little cynical for a moment, all “disenfranchisement” aside, sometimes I think the best thing that can happen to a group is to be ignored by marketers. to be  perceived as human beings, not as “consumers” or “potential customers.”

    For some reason a random Robyn Hitchcock lyric springs to mind:

    “How can you respect me, if you can’t sell me something?”

    Of course, to my mind: how can you respect me, if all you want to do is sell me things?

    1. Alas, Ambiguity, women’s particular disenfranchisement did not result in us being perceived as human beings—or at least not as human beings whose roles in the world were as important as men’s roles. 

      It’d be nice if being ignored by the creators and marketers of such things as tech, and medical breakthroughs really resulted in this rosy perception, but it has not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve why this or that uniquely female issue hasn’t been addressed by the medical community given the amount of time we’ve been aware of it, the answer has always been, “Because there’s no money in it. You’re not the target demographic.”

    1. Yeah, I was a bit puzzled by the that too. What would catering to women look like? If they’re already buying more than men, how are they “disenfranchised?” And apparently if a business doesn’t cater to them (or anyone?) they’re disenfranchised, but if they do they’re exploited? This all seems kind of confused and condescending.

    2. So where does this damn idea come from that women like things simple and pink? Me, I’m buying a Samsung Series 9 ultrabook to repartition for a Windows/Ubuntu dual boot and mostly concerned that the SSD should be Samsung not SanDisk and the cover should be Mineral Ash Black rather than silver.

      Anyone who tries to make me use a pink computer will be missing a testicle in very short order.

      What Samsung can do to cater to me is to not use photos like this one that imply the customer is ipso facto not female: http://cdn.asia.cnet.com/story_media/62215628/samsung_event_1.jpg

      1.  My question was rhetorical. There’s a well-dug  outrage mine in this particular topic, that either criticises the marketing (or design) as too male or too female. Certainly the titty models used to sell products are aimed at men, but their counterpart (the embarrassingly popular pink stuff) is well represented and equally criticised for its gender essentialism.

        Computers are just computers. Aside from UI and cosmetic design, all that matters is reliability and power, but it seems the upshot of this non-pandering reality  is that “gender neutral” in computing terms seems “masculine” to a certain type of critic. I don’t know one obsessive female gamer who needs a friendlier UI or prettier design to get excited about a new generation of video cards, or even consults the advertisements.

        Additionally patronising (it seems to me) is that whenever women do well at anything computer-related they’re congratulated for overcoming the “unfriendliness” of the UI, meaning that they’re not stupid.

        I do realise that a lot of the professional environment in the field is misogynist, but computers are just computers. If anyone’s arguing friendlier marketing and design will encourage female adoption of tech, then the stats already tell you that they are capable of doing so without that sort of condescension.

        1. Sorry not to pick up yr intended sarcasm, Ladyfingers. I had brought a frame of reference over from the Slashdot conversation on this topic, where some of the boys were handing out the “pink stupid women” line irony-free.

    3. Advertising has only a small impact on buying habits. That’s why it tends to be focused on people who are already pretty likely to buy the stuff. 

      As for how to market to women… I’d be happy if ad agencies would stop acting like they’re intentionally trying to alienate them. GoDaddy’s commercials would be a big example of a company shouting “WE DON’T THINK WOMEN ARE GOING TO BUY OUR PRODUCTS ANYWAY, SO HERE’S SOME SOFTCORE PORN.” A radio station I used to listen to that played mainstream classic rock was constantly promo-ing trips to strip clubs and airing these “AMIRITE, GUYS?” spots. Did I fall into the 50’s here? Is rock music seriously something we can assume girls don’t like?

      1. I’ve actually been considering pulling my business from GoDaddy because of those commercials. 

        I find the reaction of some of the male posters here interesting. They don’t have a problem with the 18-34 demographic trope when it’s describing males as the most important spenders, but Cory mentions the femmes du certain age demographic and they suddenly want bar charts?

        What the article doesn’t mention is that women are also becoming the majority in the work force and in “consumers'” of higher education. 

    4. Look, if you watch any kids advertising you see that little boys play with model cars, legos, and game boys. We are informed of this, by the wayly, in gruff deep male voices. Little girls play with dolls, cute little animals and pretend makeup, fashions, and hair do-dads. We are informed of this in high soft female voices.

      Both of my girls hate pink and resent advertising that overtly tells them what they should or should not be playing with. My son never saw any of those ads until he was about nine. All three kids have played with battery powered cars and stuffed animals.

      Color schemes and annoying voice-overs aside, the marketers are showing that minimally they understand the effect of showing the target audience playing or working with the device (be it toy or tool).

      For adults, I think that demonstration must be meaningful. 

      I, and all the women I know who are tech savvy or at least consumers of tech, want to know what “it” does. What can I do with “it”? I own an iPad because it supports what I do in an amazing number of ways. I can write on it, I can read musical scores from it, I can surf the web with it, play games, read books, listen to music, watch movies. In other words, if you want to sell to women, show women doing useful things with the device.

      For men, advertisers seem to suggest all they need to do is imply that the device will attract Playboy quality women.

  5. Well, if the women beat the men, certainly the score would be 34-18, not 18-34?

    I mean, unless we score technology like golf.

  6. “internet usage, mobile phone voice usage, mobile phone location-based services, text messaging, Skype, every social networking site aside from LinkedIn, all Internet-enabled devices, e-readers, health-care devices, and GPS.”

    Aren’t most of the items listed above devices for conversations? It may be a broad and over generalisation, but women spend a lot more time conversing than men (and are a lot better at it).

  7. It really means women are equally adapt at using technology… No need to turn it pink, please. The joy stick wasn’t just fun for the guys.

  8. I really can’t get behind the idea that technology is “focused on men”. There were adverts for Windows 7 that focused on older women. iPhone adverts are generally extremely gender-neutral. The tech industry developed the concept of iterative design, tweaking the experience based on experimentation until it sells the most units. That process isn’t gender-biased.

    So it seems that the point of the article is less to discuss sexism, and more to thumb its nose at men. Consumers don’t think about demographics, they don’t influence purchase decisions or change behaviour, they’re just a way of binning people. So in a consumer-focused arena, where nobody cares about shifting demographic biases, the only reason to talk about them at all is oneupmanship.

    So yes, congratulations women, you’re very important to technology and to an ever-increasing number of other things. What’re you going to do with it?

  9. Looking at the article and the fuzzy (and possibly downright deceptive – it’s hard to tell) statistics, it’s pretty clear that this is just the article writer trolling:

    Title: Sorry young man, you’re not the most important demographic in tech

    That’s ok, I don’t mind…

    Subtitle: Despite companies’ hamfisted, male-focused marketing efforts, women are the dominant users of a wide variety of new technologies. 

    These new technologies themselves have been seen from the start as predominately attractive to women, so I’m not surprised…

    And the best one, a stock photo with the title: A young man contemplating his decreasing significance on the world stage.

    Oh come on…

    First line: If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 35, you used to be tech industry’s most coveted prize. 

    That’s great! Things are changing for the better and as one of those people in the 18-35 bracket, I’m pleased that women and older people in the US as well as many other people internationally of all backgrounds are coming on board.

    Do you remember way back about five or ten years ago when they were talking about Skype, Facebook et al? One of the main things that they were saying was that a focus on more social interaction and networking would bring in large numbers of women and middle aged or older people. This is something to be celebrated – we’ve got a more inclusive, more useful internet. I’m certainly celebrating, although it does make me feel a bit uneasy when articles like this try to turn it around somehow to get people angry at each other.

    Women are key players on the internet and despite the fact that the founders of many popular internet companies are male, women are quickly narrowing the gap or overtaking men in many areas (as the article itself states). The majority of men are not trying to hold you back, so get out there and take part!

    1. I think the point of the article (and the source article as well) is that, despite that intention to focus on women consumers of high tech, the advertising agencies and marketeers don’t seem to know how to go about it. Sure, there are some efforts to address that audience, but by and large, the ads I see for high tech are aimed at men of varying ages. Even the Microsoft ads that had the little girl showing her daddy how to use his computer’s new OS were aimed at the dad, not the little girl.

      Advertisers, IMO, make a mistake when they target any group for a broad-based product set like high tech devices so tightly that they create ads that alienate another group.

      There are, indeed, products I will not buy because their ads have so completely cheesed me off. And I have to say that I gotta wonder who the heck they’re targeting with the proliferation of “stupid guy” ads? You know the ones: “this guy’s so focused on beer he ignores his sexy wife”, “this guy turns down an evening with his hot girlfriend in favor of watching a beer label change color”. 

      If I were a guy, I think I’d be offended.

  10. I am having a tad of trouble with this article … first of all I see myself as very gender neutral (not gender blind) and trying to raise my kid this way …   But stuff like this …  first of all this whole demographic thing is kinda BS and outdated (as is the Nielsen rating system) …  so, why give a flying F? 

    The other thing is the definition / mixture here of purchasing / adopting / and spending endless time on social networking websites. So, what if women of that ‘demographic’ are more likely to pick up gameboys (do they still exist?) Nintendos, PSPs and then park their kids in front of them so that they can update their facebook status? 

    I bought my wife an iPod 8 years ago (and several newer ones since then) and she still does not know how to get songs on it. She has not figured out how to work the GPS. When there is something wrong with the printer, she calls ME …  I know this is not average and in no way representative …   but I feel the same way about this article

  11. I mean, look at how much better things got when marketers figured out that they could target kids directly!

    You go guys (and gals)!

  12. Predicted Business Response:
    “My God, it turns out Women are buying more high tech gear than Young Men!  We need to market to this!  QUICK, MAKE EVERYTHING PINK!”

  13. I didn’t read the article but 18-34 is a lot of men. I hope that those men recover quickly!

  14. Allow me to point another Earth-shaking revelation out. A quick search reveals that women own 45% of cars & trucks! That’s way more than the percentage that men aged 18-34 own! Would it be safe to say that they also use their cars 20% more than men to drive to shopping destinations (yeah, I completely made that up)! So why aren’t MotorTrend magazine and Pep Boys tripping over themselves to abandon the males-aged-18-to-34 demographic to throw themselves at women?

    Yeah, sure, I’ll agree that the demographic of “100% of all women” is larger than the demographic of “men aged 18-34” when it comes to technology adoption, too. The implications of that are mostly meaningless.

    Well, unless “all women” are essentially homogeneous and they all respond to the same marketing, namely the color pink (as Jim Brinkman noted above) and “40%-off sales” on things that have 100% markup on the original retail price. I am sure all the marketers from the past are kicking themselves for not realizing this, all this time they were breaking down demographics by gender and age ranges.

    A prime example of the faulty logic that is prevalent throughout the article is the statement that “women in Western nations use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts.” Let’s think about why that might be for a minute…could it be that some larger number of women than men do not work outside the home and stay at home fooling-around on Facebook and Pinterest all day?

    It’s hard to view all “interent usage” as being the same thing, especially when it comes to monetizing it. While “social networking sites (with the exception of LinkedIn)” are a subset of the “WWW” which is a subset of “the Internet”, the usage of social networking sites is one of the most superficial usages of the technology that requires the least understanding that it’s not a terribly meaningful statement.

    So why aren’t MotorTrend and Pep Boys going to change their marketing strategy as soon as they realize how many women own cars? Right, among that 45%, only a very small number of women have any actual interest in how cars function, what the latest technology is, how to wrench on them, or doing any more with them then getting in, turning the key, and getting someplace.

    Something that would be most interesting would be if the various demographic groups of women are leading in gross purchases of technological devices and services, or were identified as power-users of a broader spectrum of the Internet. Those are revelations that would turn the conventional assumptions on ear.

    1. could it be that some larger number of women than men do not work outside the home and stay at home fooling-around on Facebook and Pinterest all day?

      How many women of working age do you know that live as ladies of leisure?

      1.  For me, not many. What I do sometimes see is women who leave work for an extended period or switch to working part time to raise kids (sadly, societal expectations for mothers and fathers remain unbalanced here).

        I’m not endorsing kobresia’s claims, but it isn’t *entirely* absurd.

        1. I’m not making claims; in the realm of scientific research, I’d call it “identifying potential sources of error that would render the claims an author is making to be highly questionable”.

          It’s the burden of an author to support his or her conclusions by making an effort to seal the cracks between the planks of data. That’s accomplished through anticipating potential objections and accounting for how they might affect the ultimate conclusion.

          The more a conclusion deviates from the commonly-held understanding, the more watertight those cracks must be, or the “new understanding” won’t hold much water!

      2. I know of a handful, indirectly through their husbands who are my coworkers, and members of my extended family.

        However, this is also one of those areas where anecdotal experience one way or the other is mostly irrelevant– the demographic of non-working women  is largely outside my social and professional spheres. I work, and I date single women, so generally speaking, I’m working with working women and I’m dating women who must work to support themselves.

        According to the last US Census, about 5.6 million women are full-time stay-at-home moms, which is the easiest estimate to pin down. I’d wager you could count on a substantially larger part of the female population who work part-time and stay home with their kids part-time as well. On top of that, you can add the spouses of the more conservative and religious men who work, but cling to the notion that they’re failures at their lives and careers if their wives work outside the home.

        I also want to be quick to point out that being a stay-at-home-mom, even on a part-time basis, is hardly a “life of leisure”, but it does allow a little more free time now and then during the day, whereas someone working a traditional job, regardless of gender, is most likely not going to have much opportunity to do things like Facebook during the day since many employers tend to frown on such activities while someone is on the clock or even using company resources for personal stuff while on break.

        My point is mostly that the author of the article is either extremely disingenuous or just lacks critical thinking abilities that are important to qualifying statistical analysis, when he conveniently ignores more than one explanation for the sensational conclusions he reaches.

        There’s a reason the conclusions are sensational and contradict the current understanding, and it’s because they’re poorly though-out and aren’t even in a league of sufficiently competent or methodical research that might allow them to challenge the current understanding.

        TL;DR– The author of the article failed to even try to account for so many things in his rush for a sensational story that his level of critical analysis and overall intellectual competence is on-par with your typical Creationist “research” paper.

        1. The author of the article was merely drawing attention to the source piece—at least that’s the way I read it. This was a “hey I read an interesting article” article, not a research paper.

          Why did you take it as one?

          1. Anytime someone takes a pile of statistics or facts and uses them to draw a conclusion, it’s technically research. Even if it only cites data acquired by 3rd parties and reassembles it in such a way as to modify understanding of a topic, it’s still research called a “review article”.

            “Hey this is an interesting article, go read it,” or something to that effect, is a sort of journalism or blogging, it’s not trying to create a new understanding, it’s only conveying information, just as BB does for several wonderful things every week.

            If people don’t want to have their methodology or logic called into question, they shouldn’t be publishing articles that involve that level of analysis and making sweeping statements to the effect that, “Everyone has been getting it wrong and is completely clueless!”. Those are the magic words that invite critique. It’s basically throwing an intellectual sucker-punch at everyone who has contributed to the current understanding.

            Since critiques are fair game for being questioned too, I welcome your critique of my critique– I don’t want to come across as being a troll against an author who only meant well, and your question allowed me to better clarify why my reaction is the way it is.

  15.  Short of not concentrating your advertising budget in Maxim and FHM, I’m honestly curious to know what the difference is supposed to be between catering your ads to men, and to women.

    We’re well past the point now of our primary new tech (smartphones, various kinds of handheld computers) being universal, adaptable electronics. Any Android smartphone is just a computer, cheaper than a PC or a laptop, and replaces dozens of niche products.

    So women use social networking more than men? They play more App-style games? What’s the difference, when your devices do everything (well or not very well)?

    I honestly don’t know what the intended outcome is here. All I can see is: 1) some reactionary misogyny involving the color pink and internet-refrigerators; or 2) changing the male-female proportion of advertising models/actors.

  16. Men buy second class tech like Android and keep old tech longer because they think they can ‘fix it,’  and vote Republican. We seemingly like the stress of a difficult life. No wonder we don’t live as long as women.

    1. I buy Android because I know what I want from a smart phone, and Android does the job perfectly well at half the price. Until I find something that I need to do that Android can’t achieve, the fact that Apple is better is irrelevant.

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