Lauren Goode

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Hot-Button Topic: Do Women Buy More Consumer Tech Than Men?

The issue of women in tech is a hot topic — whether the conversation is about female board members and entrepreneurs in a male-dominated industry, or about opportunities for women to get education in tech earlier in life.

Whether women buy more tech products than men seems to be another facet of the subject emerging right now.

According to a new report from Parks Associates, more women than men are downloading movies and music, women do the majority of game-playing across some platforms, and women have higher “purchase intentions” than men do when it comes to some electronics.

In the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller's Day Off,” Ferris got a computer, while Jeannie got a car.

Women are 40 percent more likely than men to play games on Facebook, represent the majority of Nintendo Wii players, and match men in terms of owning and playing Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PS3, says the report. And women are 73 percent more likely than men to have watched a full-length TV show online in the past 30 days.

Parks Associates also says that women have higher purchase intentions than men do when it comes to buying popular devices like tablets, laptops and smartphones, though men’s interest surpassed women’s when it came to purchasing flat-screen LCD TVs.

Intent, of course, is different from pulling the trigger and pressing the e-commerce “buy” button.

This Nielsen study, meanwhile, refutes the idea that women aren’t likely to purchase advanced TVs.

And while the Parks Associates report says 88 percent of women purchased tech-related items last year, compared to 83 percent of the men surveyed, not all recent reports point to women as besting men in tech-buying.

Confused yet? You’re not alone.

Let’s look at this chronologically:

In 2008, men were estimated to spend $902 annually on consumer electronics, compared with the $558 women spent on tech each year.

By 2009, women were spending more on consumer electronics than men, according to the CEA. It says women accounted for $55 billion of the $96 billion spent on electronics gear that year.

But in 2010, as our WSJ colleague points out here, the average man reported spending $3 on consumer electronics for every $2 the average woman said she spent.

With all of the fluctuating data, perhaps comparing women to men when it comes to consumer tech spending isn’t the right way to look at it. It’s how much growth is occurring overall when it comes to women and consumer tech.

We’ve come a long way from this 2003 report on women being “comfortable” purchasing PCs and DVD hardware.

Despite the fact that women were still trailing men in terms of consumer electronics purchases in 2010 — women spent $631 on average, compared to men’s average annual spend of $969 — women still spent $73 more on tech products than they did in 2009. And that number is expected to continue to grow.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the emergence of female purchasing power. A lot of this may have to do with the current state of the economy and shifts within households: While men are recovering more quickly from the recession — regaining more than one out of three jobs lost, compared to women regaining about one in four — men have been hit harder over the past few years, hovering at a full percentage point higher in terms of unemployment. (Some of the recent employment gains for men may also be attributed to a disproportionate number of men working in the government sector who have been regaining their jobs.)

Many women consider themselves to be chief financial officers — of the home. According to a Harvard Business Review report from last year, U.S. women continue to say they control more than 70 percent of total consumer spending. Earlier reports indicate that this number could be even higher, but some researchers say the number is murky.

Another Nielsen study shows big differences between what female consumers in developed countries spend money on versus what females in emerging countries spend on: More than half of women in emerging countries focus on allocating household funds for their children’s education, compared to 16 percent of women in developed countries, who are more likely to spend on vacations and other items. And yet, in both developed and emerging countries, more than half of women surveyed say that purchases of computers, mobile phones and smartphones have changed their lives for the better.

Bottom line: Women are making more buying decisions, and that includes consumer technology products, though the growth to date seems incremental. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be measured against what men are buying — though marketers like to know these things.

We can only hope that increases in women’s tech purchasing also means that manufacturers and marketers are getting savvier about that age-old question — what do women want? — and that the answer isn’t necessarily hardware in stereotypically girlish hues.


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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google