Online social media are information resources that can have a transformative power in society. While the Web was envisioned as an equalizing force that allows everyone to access information, the digital divide prevents large amounts of people from being present online. Online social media in particular are prone to gender inequality, an important issue given the link between social media use and employment. Understanding gender inequality in social media is a challenging task due to the necessity of data sources that can provide large-scale measurements across multiple countries.
We show how the Facebook Gender Divide (FGD), a metric based on aggregated statistics of more than 1.4 Billion users in 217 countries, explains various aspects of worldwide gender inequality. An interactive map of the FGD can be found in http://dgarcia.eu/FacebookGenderDivide.html. Our analysis shows that the FGD encodes gender equality indices in education, health, and economic opportunity reported by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Figure 1A shows the model prediction versus empirical data, which has Education Gender Equality as the strongest predictor.
We find gender differences in network externalities that suggest that using social media has an added value for women. Figure 1B shows the results of a model of the Facebook activity ratio (fraction of active users over the whole population) as a function of Facebook penetration (fraction people with an account, regardless of activity). A nonlinear fit reveals a positive externality or network effect (α>1) with a stronger value for women than for men. Furthermore, we find that low values of the FGD are associated with increases in economic gender equality, with more details reported in . Our results suggest that online social networks, while suffering evident gender imbalance, may lower the barriers that women have to access informational resources and help to narrow the economic gender gap.