Home The Older You Are, the Better You Multi-Task (If You’re a Woman)

The Older You Are, the Better You Multi-Task (If You’re a Woman)

New data released by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI) gives us insight into how men and women engage in “simultaneous media use” – that is, surfing the net while also doing some other activity like watching TV. According to the study, it’s more common for women to watch TV and use the computer than it is for men. What’s more, women supposedly get better at this multi-tasking as they age.

Reports IMMI, U.S. women between 15 and 48 who watch TV and use an internet-connected computer average 17.5 minutes per day of this simultaneous media usage, compared with only 15.7 minutes for men. And the highest simultaneous usage was among females 30-39, at 23.3 minutes per day. That was more than double the time males in the same age group spent, at 10.6 minutes.

Even more interesting is that the simultaneous media usage for men decreases the older they get, but for women it’s the opposite. Up until the age of 40, it’s the women who are the better multi-taskers. Amanda Welsh, head of research for IMMI, thought the trend was surprising, given the amount of sports-related programming on the web. What does this mean? She says that they’re interpreting the data to mean that “women are more inclined to multi-task than men.”

What About the Digital Natives?

Arguing against hard data is difficult, but we have to agree with Amanda – this information is surprising. It seems to support the age-old theory that women, because of their “natural” abilities as mothers and in running the household, have some sort of innate multi-tasking abilities that allow them to engage in different activities at the same time more often (and the subtext implies “better”) than men.

But is that still accurate? We’re not entirely sure. The ability to take part in different activities when surfing the web is something today’s teens and young adults, aka the “millennials'” or “Generation Y,” also reportedly do well. Because this generation grew up with the internet a part of their world from the day they arrived, multi-tasking while online just became a normal part of their existence – for both boys and girls. Surfing the net while instant messaging, listening to music, and/or watching TV, is something that this younger generation of internet users are known for. And since these millennials are a part of the age range (15-48) involved in this study, you would think their learned multi-tasking behavior would have some impact on the reported results. But Instead, the results seem to uphold the more traditional view about women and their multi-tasking abilities.

Then Again, Multi-tasking Could Be a Myth

This idea of multi-tasking being a skill to boast about is left over from the days when technology like desktop PCs and email systems were being integrated into the workplace. Suddenly, HR managers were looking for “multi-taskers” able to focus on several different aspects of the job at the same time. However, in later years, it’s been discovered that multi-tasking is more myth than reality, since the human brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, no matter how many activities a person is engaged in. The new advice for increased productivity is to slack off, work simpler, and ditch multi-tasking altogether.

So perhaps women sit in the living room with notebook PCs on their lap more often than men, but let’s be honest – they aren’t multi-tasking. They’re just tuning out the TV to engage in something more interesting instead; the internet.

Image credit: woman and TV, flickr user Pink Ponk

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