Results of academic survey of Mumsnetters' habits

In November 2008, Dr Janet Smithson of Exeter University and Dr Sarah Pedersen of The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, surveyed Mumsnetters about their Mumsnetting habits and motivations.

There were 391 respondents to the survey.

While no other academic research has been conducted into Mumsnet, over the last decade other researchers have investigated the UK parenting community BabyWorld, a Swedish website, a Hong Kong website called HappyLand and several North American communities. We were therefore able to make some comparisons to the reported results of their investigations, although not all of these projects were based on a similar survey. 

A. Demographic details

1. Are you a mum or a dad? (by this we include step mums or step dads)

  • 93% of respondents were mothers
  • 0.3% (one respondent) fathers
  • 1.7% were other carers (eg grandmothers)
  • 1% (four respondents) were not parents or carers

Despite the description of the majority of such sites as parenting websites, most of the research mentioned above was based on mothers rather than fathers. Commentators point out that the lack of fathers as members of these parenting websites and respondents in related research is pointed. They suggest that such lack of involvement indicates the continuance of traditional familial stereotypes online. Whilst it is described as being 'by parents for parents', the choice of the name 'Mumsnet' acknowledges this state of affairs.

2. Where do you live?

The majority of respondents were based in the UK: 82% of these lived in England and 43% of these English respondents lived in either London or the South East; 16 respondents lived overseas, most of these being British ex-pats.

3. Current working status

Work in paid employment outside the home (full or part time) - 165 (38.50%)
Stay at home full time with children (unpaid work inside the home) - 104 (24.20%)
Work in paid employment at home (full or part time) - 39 (9.10%)
Work in paid employment mixture of home and outside home - 37 (8.60%)
Study part time - 29 (6.70%)
Do unpaid work outside the home - 21 (4.90%)
Currently on maternity leave - 20 (4.70%)
Study full time - 8 (1.90%)
Not working as you are currently seeking paid employment - 3 (0.70%)
Full-time carer - 3 (0.70%)

4. How old are you?

The Mumsnet sample appears to be a comparatively older group of mothers, with three-quarters of the respondents aged between 31 and 50. We think this is because the majority of parenting sites, for example, BabyWorld, are focused on parents of babies and toddlers, while Mumsnet is aimed at parents with children of all ages.

5. How many children do you have living at home?

  • 1% of respondents had no children living at home
  • 40% had one child
  • 40% had two
  • 12% had three
  • 3% had four
  • 1% had five or more

6. How old are your children?

The majority (80%) of respondents had one or two children, and in contrast to other parenting sites, only 22.8% of the children were under two, reflecting the wider user group of Mumsnet. 

B. Mumsnetting habits

7. On average, how frequently do you read Mumsnet?
The survey respondents admitted to heavy usage of mumsnet: 68% of respondents ticked the top two categories provided, 2-5 times a day, or "more frequently".

Frequency of reading
2-5 times a day - 192 (49.1%)
Less than once a week - 3 (0.8%)
More frequently - 75 (19.2%)
Once a day - 91 (23.3%)
Once a week - 12 (3.1%)
Total - 391 (100%)

8. On average, how frequently do you post on Mumsnet?

43% of respondents said that they posted at least 2-5 times a day, and a further 23% posted once a day.

Frequency of posting

2-5 times a day - 123 (31.5%)
Less than once a week - 63 (16.1%)
More frequently - 43 (11%)
Once a day - 88 (22.5%)
Once a week - 54 (13.8%)
Total - 391 (100%)

9. For how long did you read Mumsnet before you started to post?

The majority of posters read Mumsnet for days, weeks or months before posting. Only 25% started immediately.

For how long did you read Mumsnet before you started to post?
A few days - 22.5%
A few months - 19.7%
A few weeks - 21.2%
A year - 2.3%
Family and friends - 0.3%
I never post - 1.0%
More than a year - 3.6%
Neither - 0.3%
No - 0.3%
Started immediately - 25.3%
Total - 100.0%

10. Do you look for posts from certain posters?

36% said yes. (n=378)

11. Do you avoid certain posters?

30% said yes. (n=375)

12. Which are your favourite topics? (Please give three)

Top four favourite topics:

Chat - 199 respondents
Am I Being Unreasonable? - 154 respondents
Behaviour and development - 50 respondents
Relationships - 49 respondents

13. Do you avoid certain topics? Which ones? (Please give three)

For sale / wanted - 82 respondents
Antenatal clubs - 60 respondents
Breast and bottle feeding - 38 respondents
Special needs - 35 respondents

14. What satisfactions do you get from Mumsnet? (Respondents could tick as many options as they wished)

Advice - 336 (86%)
Company - 211 (54%)
Entertainment - 354 (91%)
Other - 49 (13%)
Support - 249 (64%)
Validation of your opinions - 181 (46%)

15. Have you been to a meet-up?

28% of respondents had been to a meet-up.

This is less than the finding of the Digital World, Digital Life study in 2008, which found that 58% of UK respondents had met up with an online friend. Respondents to our survey gave two main reasons for such a step: either to make contact with others in their local area or because they wanted to meet specific posters that they liked online.

16. Are you worried about being recognised by others on Mumsnet?

35% said yes

17. Has anyone in real life recognised you from Mumsnet?

15% said yes

18. Have you ever encountered problems from your postings on Mumsnet

11% said yes.

19. Have you ever flounced?

8% said yes.

20. Have you ever received a warning from Mumsnet HQ?

2% said yes.

C. Impact of mumsnet

21. In your opinion, is the online discussion more like talking to other parents in real life or to receiving professional advice or counselling?

  • 40% felt that the online discussion was similar to talking to parents in real life
  • 5% felt that it was like receiving professional advice or counselling
  • 43% felt it was a bit of both
  • 3% felt it was similar to neither

(n=389)

Respondents were given a choice of a variety of satisfactions and could select any number of them or detail other satisfactions they found in Mumsnet. By far the most popular choice was not support (64%) or advice (86%) but entertainment, with 91% respondents indicating that Mumsnet was entertaining.

22. Have you ever bought a product after recommendations on Mumsnet?

79% said yes.

23. If you are planning to buy a child-related product, do you see advice or read the reviews on Mumsnet first?

80% said yes

24. Have you ever stopped buying or using a product after discussion on Mumsnet?

40% said yes.

25. Have any of the chats with celebrities or politicians changed your mind about them?

13% said yes.

26. Has using Mumsnet led to the establishment of any new friendships offline?

31% said yes.

27. If you have a concern or problem, are you more likely to post about it on Mumsnet or talk to family or friends first?

  • 51% said family and friends first
  • 42% said Mumsnet first
  • 7% said Other

28. Are there things you talk about or admit on Mumsnet that your offline friends don't know about?

69% said yes.

Lurkers

We asked if people lurked but didn't post, and if so, why, and got a variety of responses. Given that Mumsnet claims to receive one million visitors a month it is obvious that the majority of visitors do not post on the discussion boards but are instead lurkers. Twenty-four survey respondents identified themselves as lurkers, although the majority of these respondents admitted to posting very occasionally. Lurking rates are highly variable across different communities, although there is evidence to suggest lower rates for health support communities (Preece, Nonneche and Andrews, 2004). In large and very active communities, such as Mumsnet, lurking may even be desirable. One million posters could cause severe problems for the size and speed of the site.

The most frequently given reason for lurking was that of not liking the group dynamics, particularly the already noted perceived cliquiness of the discussion forum. 15 out of 24 lurkers admitted to not posting because of concerns about how their post would be received:

  • Highly critical/judgemental responses of some posters
  • Lurking is fun and being jumped on by total strangers can be scary
  • A lot of the regular posters are very confident in what they write. I feel that if I post something that they don't agree with, then I may be publicly ridiculed.
  • Afraid of the response. Posts get ignored. To be honest, it's a bit cliquey.

Other studies have found that, despite not posting, most lurkers identify with a community and think of themselves as members. Our survey supports that finding, with lurking respondents commenting:

  • Given me an identity "mumsnet type (you know)"
  • A sense of feeling part of an on-line community

Preece et al identified five main reasons for lurking on discussion boards: not needing to post; needing to find out more about the group before participating; thinking they were being helpful by not posting; not being able to make the software work; not liking the group dynamics.

Some of these reasons can be found in the Mumsnet lurkers' responses, in particularly, the feeling that there was no need for a response from them because someone else had already answered the question:

And similarly for a couple of other issues. In a non-contentious way.

Post your reactions to the research findings

Last updated: almost 2 years ago