A fiction gender gap? Yes there is one! Surveys taken in Canada, the United States and England suggest that men account for only about 20% of the fiction market! Why is this so?
Warren Adler writes: “There is ample statistical evidence showing that adult women read more novels than men, attend more book clubs than men, use libraries more than men, buy more books than men, take more creative writing courses than men, and probably write more works of fiction than men.”
Emma Cueto writes: “When it comes to fiction, though, most readers have something in common: Most of them are women. About 55 percent of women have read a work of fiction in the past 12 months, compared with only 33 percent of men. Fewer women read nonfiction, but female nonfiction readers still outnumber male nonfiction readers. In fact, women make up a greater share of readers in just about any category, be it novel, nonfiction, short stories, poetry, or plays.”
Ariane Bucaille writes: Studies show that people who read books not only live longer than people who don’t read books, but also have a longevity advantage compared to those who read newspapers or magazines—even after adjusting for covariates such as age, education level, wealth, and health. Multiple studies also show that reading fiction books increases empathy and understanding of others more than reading nonfiction.
Women are more empathetic than men – making it easier for them to immerse themselves in fictional settings and plots. Women want to figure out the world and what other people are thinking and feeling. Fiction gives them the opportunity to enter different lives and situations thus giving them a broader view. Women readers use much-loved novels to support them through difficult times and emotional turbulence, and for support and inspiration.
Readers of fiction tend to want their emotions stirred. It is curious that men over 50 read more fiction than younger men. Is it that by that age they are more comfortable with themselves and more in touch with their feminine side? My stepfather didn’t begin to read fiction until he was in his early ’70s. Now he wonders why he didn’t before. I belong to a bookclub with roughly 25 members. Two of those are men (both over 50).
There is a stigma (at least in the minds of men) that reading fiction is a pastime not worthy of men’s valuable time. Ask the average man and he’ll admit to reading non-fiction, newspapers and magazines, but rarely will he admit to reading fiction. When he does admit to reading fiction it is usually ‘manfiction‘. That is macho adventure thrillers by such authors as Clive Cussler, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Jon Land and the like.
Hey guys…. you don’t know what you are missing!
There is also a gulf in the more specific genres that men and women choose, with men tending to read history, biographies and memoir and science fiction, while women are more likely to choose mystery, thriller and crime, romance and other fiction.
Fiction can be just as educational as non-fiction and most times a lot more enjoyable. Novelists (good ones at least) put countless hours into researching their novels. It is proven that lessons hidden in stories stay with us longer than those relayed in lectures. What if reading fiction made you smarter, more empathetic, and more savvy in social situations, as well as in relationships? Is fiction the key to success?
For fun, read this crazy story about an alcoholic relative who comes to town and wants to move in. You decide the fate of the story at http://shouldthestorycontinue.wordpress.com.
Thanks Lance for your valid comments and insight. I agree that reading fiction is a diversion from life’s stresses. Perhaps that is why more women than men read it. Perhaps it is easier to empathize with ‘real’ people in non-fiction than it is to empathize with fictional folk. I must disagree with your theory that men are more tolerant of stress and have superior impulse control. What do you base this assumption upon? I have always thought that men obey their impulses more readily than women in particular when talking about risk taking and aggression.
As for myself, I have learned a lot from reading fiction. A well researched historical novel is much more pleasurable to read than a history text, and oftentimes just as accurate.
We agree on one point for sure… “Vive la difference!”
What is your hypothesis as to the 80/20 gender disparity between fiction readers? To what do you attribute the ‘fiction gap’ ?
I fail to see the connection between empathy and a preference for fiction as being any more than tenuous. Plenty of non-fiction books have “people” in them, only these are real people. Is it not possible to empathize with real people? With all due respect, it sounds to me as if your desire is to leave the real world behind and immerse yourself in a fantasy world when you read. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but is trying to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling (your words) best accomplished by reading about made-up people? I think not.
A quick glance at the NY Times fiction best sellers reveals pretty lightweight fare, purchased by readers that are apparently 80% women. I doubt that character development in those selections can compare favorably to that of the best of classic fiction. (Perhaps readership of classic fiction breaks down more equitably between the sexes). I disagree with your contention that consumption of such fiction would make me smarter, or more empathetic or anything else. The most one can hope for is to kill some time, maybe provide a diversion from life’s stresses.
On the topic of empathy, it’s a mistake to believe that more is always better. Empathy is fine to a degree, but so is pragmatism. If fiction is the key to success, as you suggest, then why aren’t more women leaders of countries and industry? Men, being more assertive, more tolerant of stress, and having better impulse control, make better leaders in general. But there is nothing wrong with this – let’s not tinker too much with the evolutionary differences between men and women. Vive la difference.
I have a personal example of forced evolution gone awry. When I was little, my mother put a plastic liner under my sheet just in case I urinated in the bed at night. I, on the other hand, thought she was doing me a favor by saving me the bother of having to get up during the night to go. So I simply peed right there in the bed. The result? Today I’m incontinent. So I say no thanks to more empathy.