The most popular items for women to buy on the Web were books, CDs and videos, with 9.6 million purchases of those items made during the last nine months. But in a twist, the number of women buying computers over the Internet climbed fastest, up 160 percent to 1.3 million over the previous nine months.
The study by Nielsen Media Research and CommerceNet shows the number of women who made at least a single purchase using the Internet rose 80 percent during the time period.
"Certainly the types of products you can purchase online are so much more diverse than in years past," Jerome Samson, one of the study's coordinators, said Thursday. "The only thing you could purchase online were hardware, software, things that mainly appealed to a male audience."
Men also purchased books, CDs and videos but bought far more computers than women.
Among both men and women, online purchases of software remained flat.
"Nearly half of North America uses the Internet," said Mark Resch, executive vice president at CommerceNet. "We use it to communicate, to learn, to shop and to buy. It is as integral a part of our lives as the telephone."
The survey, based on interviews with more than 7,200 people in North America, said 54 percent of people on the Internet are men, although men still represent a higher proportion, 62 percent, of all online buyers.
The study distinguished online buyers from online shoppers, who merely research and compare prices and features among products and services, even if they don't ultimately make a purchase.
It said that among shoppers, men most typically look at information about cars and car parts while women most often look for details about clothing and books.
The same study last August showed 79 million people over age 16 on the Internet in North America - with 43 percent of them women. The study in September 1997 counted 58 million, also with 43 percent women.
But last year's study also showed that more than 71 percent of Internet purchasers were men.
The latest study also said 72 million people use the Internet from home, while 46 million use it from work and 28 million from school. The rest use it from other locations, such as a library or a friend's home.
Nielsen and CommerceNet said the results of its latest study were statistically representative of North America's population of 225 million people over age 16.