Europe is still lagging behind the US in terms of the number of women who are using the Internet, figures published on Tuesday have found.
The research, conducted by Nielsen NetRatings in May 2003, found that 42 percent of European surfers are female. This compares unfavourably to America, which boasts a much more balanced ratio of 49 percent male surfers to 51 percent female.
It is also a rise of just 1 percent on a year ago. At this rate, the research group warns, there won't be gender parity in the European online community until 2010.
Nielsen//NetRatings European market analyst Tom Ewing is concerned that this gender divide reinforces the perception that the Web is a very male-dominated place.
"That needs to change in order for a greater range of sites to win a large female audience. Changes are taking place but it's a very slow process in some markets," said Ewing.
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the US is the only country where the gender split of Web users matches that of the whole community. In the UK, just over 45 percent of surfers are female -- which means there's been little change in almost three years.
This evidence that the UK's online gender gap still exists comes at a time when there is growing concern that the digital divide isn't being closed. Recent figures show that the number of people using the Internet has stalled at around 42 percent, with take-up of PCs also failing to get above about 50 percent of homes.
Several politicians are worried that this means many people will continue to be excluded from applications and services such as email, e-commerce and e-democracy because they cannot afford the technology or don't want to engage with it.
Nielsen//NetRatings has produced a list of the 10 UK Web sites that are used by the greatest percentage of women. Five of these are shopping sites -- including next.co.uk and marksandspencer.com -- plus one gaming site; one travel site; one finance site; one education site; and one portal.
Analysts have claimed that e-commerce sites would be well-advised to target female surfers as they are thought to be more likely to use the Web for specific purposes such as buying particular items, rather than just to surf.