Smartphone addiction: what are the differences between girls and boys?


The smartphone is omnipresent in the daily life of adolescents. Between 10 and 15 years old, 87% own a smartphone. This is even the case for 65% of them since entering sixth grade. As a result, more and more of them fear the loss of this cell phone that connects them to their friends and the world, and feel the need to frequently consult the messages and notifications they receive.

In one of my research on “Generation Z” published in 2018, I estimated that 85% of 15-18 year olds could be considered addicted to their smartphone, compared to 77% of 18-24 year olds and 68% of 25. -34 years old. But what uses do adolescents really make of their smartphones? And are there differences between girls and boys to explain dependent smartphone use?

In a field where knowledge is often more intuitive than scientific, I sought to understand the effect of gender on the mechanisms underlying the interactions of 15-18 year olds with their smartphones and their peers.

A field to explore

To date, few studies adopt a gender perspective to explore smartphone uses. Most of the research conducted does not distinguish between adolescent and adolescent practices. It happens that studies include only adolescents, or more often than adolescent girls, but they justify this choice by differences in consumption, without however attempting to model them.

Therefore, in these studies, gender appears more as a biological datum than as an object of research in itself in marketing, even though new “gender studies” seek to explore the foundations of the development of gender through consumption.

Furthermore, descriptive studies show that girls tend to become more addicted to their smartphones than boys. For example, from a sample of 976 female and 820 female students, a study indicates that the risk of addiction is 23.9% in girls compared to 15.1% in boys.

Play or chat

Through a research carried out among 463 French adolescents (average age, 16 years), and based on the theory of uses and gratuities, we confirmed the differences in the forms of smartphone use between girls and women. the boys.

The functionalist approach of the “uses and gratification” type initiated by Katz’s work is a model for the study of uses which adapts particularly well to the smartphone. This theory postulates that an individual uses mass communications to connect (or gain distance) with others (oneself, family, friends, nation, etc.) through relationships that are either instrumental, emotional or still integration.

Adolescent girls tend to be smartphone dependent seeking to strengthen their relationships with others – hence for social motivations – while boys tend to have process-related motivations: they gain satisfaction from the experience of browsing the laptop in their own home. functional process.

Digital uses are also gendered: boys spend more time watching videos and playing on their smartphones, while girls prefer social networks. In addition, there are gender differences in online security practices: 63% of boys say they have complicated passwords compared to 57% of girls.

Identity crafts

These differences are rooted in the process of gender socialization of girls and boys who continue to be brought up in a differentiated way according to gender norms and representations. Research in sociology takes account of gender differences with regard to adolescent identity construction. They show that boys build their identity independently, want to lead communication, and use the relationship to each other as a support.

On the contrary, girls build their identity by interacting with others, they are more inclined in their relations with peers to offer support, leave more room for the voice of the other and develop a collaborative and pro-social relationship with their children. friends. Adolescents use the smartphone as a tool for “identity DIY”, if we take up Kaufmann’s words .

If marketers are interested in this data to adapt to a “gender” vision of consumption, these results are also valuable for educators who want to help adolescents to take a step back from digital tools and reflect on their uses.

Author Bio: Elodie Gentina is Associate Professor Marketing at IÉSEG School of Management