Are Mac users smarter?

A new study compares Mac-using Web surfers with their PC-wielding counterparts. If you're reading this on Windows, feel free to take your time on the big words.

Those who surf the Web using a Mac tend to be better educated and make more money than their PC-using counterparts, according to a report from Nielsen/NetRatings.

The study also said Mac users tend to be more Web savvy, with more than half having been online for at least five years. And the Mac faithful are 58 percent more likely than the overall online population to build their own Web page and also slightly more likely to buy goods online, according to the report.

"With above-average household income and education levels, the Mac population presents a very attractive target for marketers, both online and offline," the research group said.

TS Kelly, director and principal analyst at NetRatings, said that his company decided to publish the study after noticing the differences between the demographics of Mac owners compared with overall PC owners. Kelly said Apple Computer is a client, but he said Apple did not commission the study nor was it made aware of the results prior to the report's publication.

Kelly said the greater affluence and education level of those who surf using a Mac is attributable in part to the company's comparatively pricier machines, as well as to their perception as a status symbol and their greater market share among those in the publishing and design industries.

"Any time you lower a price point you always see a broadening of the audience that is probable to buy it," Kelly said.

"Apple customers may be educated, but our customers are smart enough to have chosen Gateway, which offers the best value," said Brad Williams, a spokesman for the PC maker.

Apple has been aggressively targeting PC owners in its latest ad campaign.

Although Apple sales typically represent less than 5 percent of the overall U.S. personal computer market, 8.2 percent of Americans who surf the Web at home do so using a Mac, according to the study. Nearly all the rest of those who go online--89.4 percent--do so using a Windows-based PC.

Nielsen/NetRatings said that 70.2 percent of Mac users online have a college degree, compared with 54.2 percent of all Web surfers. That, combined with their longer surfing histories and their greater willingness to buy products via the Web, makes Mac consumers a prime catch for marketers, Kelly said.

"In many cases that is a market advertisers are looking at when they are promoting new products or upscale products," Kelly said.

A representative for PC maker Dell noted that it doesn't seem to be lacking for customers and that half of those customers buy their PCs over the Web--a sign that Windows users are also adept online.

The study notes that although there are clear benefits to marketing to Mac owners, it can be tough to target them specifically.

Once upon a time, marketers could target personal computer users as a whole to reach a more-educated, higher-income base, however the demographics of those with a personal computer have become more similar to the demographics of the overall population as personal computer penetration has grown. Kelly said advertisers can still reach upscale crowds in other ways, such as targeting those who have a broadband connection.

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