Mind the gap — in computer and internet skills

mind gapBy Emily Verde

The research presented in Eszter Hargittai and Aaron Shaw’s “Mind the skills gap: The role of Internet know-how and gender in differentiated contributions to Wikipedia” explores the factors that contribute to the lack of women Wikipedia editors, namely that of the level of internet skills of Wikipedia contributors.

Hargittai and Shaw point out that previous studies on this topic have been incomplete because they focus solely on existing contributors, rather than trying to define the factors that determine participants’ decisions to start editing Wikipedia. As a result, the research presented in this article studies both contributors and non-contributors, and mainly focuses on two factors of participation: internet skills and gender.

To gather data, Hargittai and Shaw surveyed 547 college students either 21 or 22 years old over four years. The students were diverse in their demographics and amount of time spent on the internet. Researchers discovered that, although 99% of the participants had looked up information on Wikipedia, only 28% had ever edited an existing article and many of these edits were done as a class assignment.

Furthermore, only 21% of women participants contributed to Wikipedia, as opposed to men contributors, who made up 38%. When researchers eliminated the students who had only edited Wikipedia for a class assignment, the numbers dropped to 13% (women) and 32% (men).

The researchers also discovered that an individual’s internet skills was an important factor in determining Wikipedia contribution. Even among highly skilled individuals, however, there is still a large gap between women and men contributors and more research is necessary to determine the cause.

Notably, an individual’s perception of their own skills affects their decision about contributing, as demonstrated by women who evaluated themselves as having a low skill level, despite their education being the same as their men counterparts. As a result, it is necessary to conduct more research to determine why women have less confidence in their skills as contributors than men.

Emily Verde is a Wayne State University honors student majoring in piano performance. In the Wikid GRRLS project she teaches middle school girls online skills in Detroit Public Schools this semester.


Hargittai, E., & Shaw, A. (2015). Minding the skills gap. Information, Communication & Society, (18)4, 424-442.

Image source: Wikipedia Commons



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