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Adina Kahn approaches the gender divide

A few months ago, Jim McCarthy wrote about an AP poll that stated one in four people didn’t read a book last year. Many people found this news to be shocking and disappointing. Personally, I was more fascinated with another statistic: women read more books than men. According to the poll, the average woman read nine books that year, compared with only five books for men.

I tend to challenge broad statements made about the differences between men and women. For example, film executives would have you believe that the only people going to the movies are teenage boys. When Sex and the City was such a huge success in theaters recently, I felt like it was the hundredth time that I’d witnessed the industry’s amazement at the fact that women do indeed also like to go to the movies! So am I really to believe these reports about women having more interest in reading than men? I decided to do a little detective work and get to the bottom of the book buying habits of men and women.

I started by looking up what sorts of books women and men are more likely to buy. According to a recent Harris poll, women are more likely to read mysteries (57% versus 38%), religious books (32% versus 24%), and romance novels (38% versus 3%). Men are more likely to read history (44% versus 27%), science fiction (34% versus 18%) and political books (22% versus 9%). None of these statistics are especially startling, but what I did find a little surprising is that overall many more women read general fiction than men. In 2007, an NPR story commented on studies showing that men actually account for only 20% of the fiction market.

A quick glance at a recent NY Times fiction bestseller list seems to support this statistic. Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, Danielle Steel, and Lauren Weisberger are just representative of the primarily female authors on the list, and most of their books have female protagonists. The non-fiction bestseller list, however, appears to be more gender neutral, at least in terms of content.

I decided to conduct my own poll and sent out an e-mail to some friends inquiring about their reading habits. Many women wrote back that they felt they read the same amount of non-fiction as the men in their lives, but confirmed that they did read more fiction, while they thought men tended to gravitate towards history, biography and general non-fiction books. Interestingly, a few men replied that while they didn’t read much fiction, they felt they put in more hours each day reading online news sites, magazines, and newspapers.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all is that of the friends I e-mailed, many more women than men responded with answers. So after all of my research, I guess the only thing I can state with certainty is that among my circle of friends, men and women both read an impressive amount of books, but only my female friends read my e-mails!

So what do you think about all of this? Do women really read more than men?

18 Responses to Adina Kahn approaches the gender divide

  1. deannachase says:

    Well, I read a lot more than my husband does. So in this house, yes the woman reads more than the man.

  2. Joelle says:

    If you ask my husband if he likes to read, he answers that he LOVES to read. However, I bet he only reads ten to twelve books a year and most of them are when he has to fly somewhere. He doesn’t seem to care if it’s fiction or nonfiction, but he likes a good story so his nonfiction tends to be something like THREE CUPS OF TEA vs. some current event nonfiction. He’s pretty big on haiku too. He is a professional musician and he does love to read, but he loves to play guitar more, so when it’s time to choose, I settle in front of the fire and read while he plays, so I think I read about ten times as much as he does.

  3. Dave says:

    I read a lot across many types, but fantasy/sci-fi would probably be foremost.

    My wife is an avid reader as well and reads mostly mystery.

    Once difference I do find between the sexes is that our women friends are always recommending books and asked about recent reads – the guys I know just don’t share the same way – unless it’s really unusual. So it may be that the difference comes down to the same socialization differences that mark most man/woman variances.

  4. Bobbie says:

    I’m not surprised by any of the poll results you cite. I’m an avid reader, having grown up the daughter of two avid readers who opened their own bookstore when I was still young. My mother, sisters, and I read just about anything in the fiction genre and will skim non-fiction occasionally as well. My father and brothers read primarily non-fiction with only the rare (very rare) novel thrown in. My husband has followed that gender divide and will only read fiction when it has historical aspects–and when I shove it to him on Christmas morning.

    My theory of the morning is that women are more likely to multi-task and thus gravitate toward novels because they can do other things while reading–unlike with non-fiction where you have to focus solely on that book for whatever period of time it takes you to read it. It’s hard to read a history of the Middle East (and get anything out of it), for example, when you’re constantly being interrupted by the kids. Or maybe women just feel the need to escape more often than men do, and it’s most safely done in the pages of a novel.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think women read much more fiction than men. I’m a guy and my pals mostly read news magazines, business journals, newspapers, etc. If they read books it tends to be nonfiction with a bias toward history or biographies. Since I’m a fiction writer I tend to concentrate reading in my genre but I also enjoy a wide swath of other genres as well. Eclectic would be a good description of my reading tastes. But truly, I’m the exception when it comes to men’s reading habits. Who reads more? If you include reading off your computer, then I’m saying it’s a toss-up. But books…I’d be inclined to say women edge out men. Next time you’re in a book store take a look around. My guess is there will be more women than men browsing…and that includes after-work hours.

  6. Kim Kasch says:

    In my house it’s about even, my boys read waaaayy more than my daughter. My husband reads lots of magazines and Clive Cussler novels, and/or sci-fi, I read horror – mostly.

  7. Alli says:

    Definitely. And I find it true in regards to men reading more non-fiction than fiction (although my brother would argue that he reads more fiction – but then again, he writes fiction like me).
    My partner reads a lot of non-fiction, loves the idea of reading fiction, but as he’s so busy he rarely finishes a book within a reasonable timeframe.
    I don’t know what it is in our genetic makeup, but there definitely is a differene between men and women when it comes to reading books.
    It could also come down to conditioning. When I was at school (I’m nearly 40), the girls always had their heads in Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Trixi Belden books. Boys were out playing football, etc. I don’t remember boys being encouraged to pick up books. I hope things have changed since.
    Great topic, thanks!

  8. Haste yee back ;-) says:

    I had a “big time” agent turn down a MG book because… “This would go over well with boys, but not with girls. Sorry!”

    Intimation, or business reality?… In MG, girls call the tune.

    Haste yee back 😉

  9. Anonymous says:

    Do you know what I think is most interesting about this information? The combination of the number of chick-lit books on the NY Times list, the Sex and the City Movie, and all the agents/editors that say chick-lit is dead and don’t submit it. Granted, the authors and the movie are all well established among women, but might we not want to see some fresh voices?

    I will always have my eyes open for fun, light women’s fiction, I never tire of watching characters shop for shoes… Just a few thoughts on things that have been popular this year!

  10. Marcia says:

    It’s hard to read a history of the Middle East (and get anything out of it), for example, when you’re constantly being interrupted by the kids. Or maybe women just feel the need to escape more often than men do, and it’s most safely done in the pages of a novel.

    Another possibility: Novels are about people and relationships, which is more interesting to larger numbers of women.

  11. Samantha says:

    Loved this article. I’m a college student, and I focus a lot of my studies on the great gender divide, so the statistics in this blog were priceless.

    I know I read a whole lot more than the men around me. And, as someone who has the entire Janet Evanovich series stacked up on her bookshelf, I can testify that our reading preferences are different as well. A good friend of mine only reads medical non-fiction. I’ve never seen him even touch another book, much less fiction.

    Then again, I love historical non-fiction. Go figure.

    Makes me think of Claire Cook, who wrote her first novel, Must Love Dogs, waiting for her daughter to finish swim practice. Maybe the great gender/book divide comes from society’s roles for men and women? Just a thought.

  12. Samantha says:

    Loved this article. I’m a college student, and I focus a lot of my studies on the great gender divide, so the statistics in this blog were priceless.

    I know I read a whole lot more than the men around me. And, as someone who has the entire Janet Evanovich series stacked up on her bookshelf, I can testify that our reading preferences are different as well. A good friend of mine only reads medical non-fiction. I’ve never seen him even touch another book, much less fiction.

    Then again, I love historical non-fiction. Go figure.

    Makes me think of Claire Cook, who wrote her first novel, Must Love Dogs, waiting for her daughter to finish swim practice. Maybe the great gender/book divide comes from society’s roles for men and women? Just a thought.

  13. Kristin says:

    I read way more than my husband. He reads non-fiction, which puts me to sleep. He’ll pick up an occasional work of fiction…maybe once or twice a year.

    We both spend about equal times online reading the news, blogs, etc. And when we got a regular newspaper I read it and my husband rarely picked it up.

    There’s some more for your pile of statistics

  14. Mary Witzl says:

    My husband is one of the few men I know who reads as much or more than most women, including me. He also tends to read more fiction than I do. Almost all of the women I know read far more than their husbands, though, and the fiction section of our town library always has plenty of women browsers, while men go for the non-fiction. I love seeing men in the fiction section and women checking out soldiers’ memoirs; it makes me feel as though we aren’t all so predictable.

  15. Barbara Martin says:

    Men read more than we think they do, but it is on different topics and genres. When I use public transportation many men are reading newspapers or books: fiction and non-fiction. The fiction tends to be thrillers, sci-fi, and literary. The book reading numbers differ between genders on any given day, although the important thing is that they read.

  16. harshita says:

    Hi,
    I think women read much more fiction than men. I Loved this article. I would like to visit again.

    =============================
    jack
    Wide Circles

  17. Lisa says:

    Dear Sir,
    I’m sure you have received many comments since your profile in SCBWI. I, a published writer, have always wished for an agent, but do not agree with SCBWI. I have found many agents to be hard and discouraging. What I have published, I had done myself, which isn’t easy for a disabled mother with two disabled children herself. I wish for once I could pick up a SCBWI magazine and truly believe there are agents interested, after all, the agents wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for the writers. So I feel the writers are truly mistreated. I am currently waiting for Regional Center to help me, if I qualify, to help because the writing is not the difficult part for a disabled person like myself. It is the traveling, expenses, and so forth. My son, who is also disabled, is an illustrator, who has been profiled on television and has a book coming out in January with other talented autistic illustators. My work has been admired by teachers, who even use it in the classroom. I don’t make a living at it, for as I said, finding an agent for someone like myself is difficult. I have never seen the magazine focus on someone who has the difficult problems I do. Perhaps they do not know that a person with a disability can also create.
    Sincerely,
    Lisa Stevenson

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