The Fiction Gender Gap

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.”

My hypothesis:

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.

real-men-read-t-shirtReaders 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? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic?  Why do YOU think fiction is read by more women than men?

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Men's fiction, Reading, Women's fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to The Fiction Gender Gap

  1. This is very interesting. I work in a male-dominated office (Information Technology) and I’ve found that most of them don’t read fiction, and the ones that do read fantasy or action fiction. Mind you, most of them are very liberal and tend to think of themselves as more feminine than me, and yet none of them read (or admit to reading) fiction. This is not talked about enough!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sptrevor says:

    Men like to play video games and sports for entertainment. I’m a writer and even I would rather play golf or basketball or baseball or football or risk or call of duty, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My husband reads mostly fiction. My elder son is like me, and reads absolutely anything and everything he can lay his hands on, and my younger son reads only non fiction, mainly biographies. My youngest brother reads only sporting biographies, and the other two don’t read at all. 😕

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  5. Naty says:

    This is such an interesting post, I love that you brought the topic up!

    In my opinion, boys are encouraged since a young age to do “manly” free time activities: play football, play video games. Generally doing something that is either active or “violent” in nature. Whereas girls are encouraged to do “feminine” activities, like art, chatting and reading. Activities that are quieter, not physically active and non-violent in nature. Thus women grow up reading more than men.

    The overwhelming majority of female readers on the thriller/crime section of fiction is another topic, however, more related to female experience of violence and the “satisfaction” of seeing the criminal being caught in fiction, at least.

    This is a wonderful theme to talk about and I really liked how you wrote with such clarity and thought! Well done!

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  8. As a side note, the whole notion of women’s fiction drives me a little bonkers. 😀

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    • I agree. Back when I worked as a library cataloguer the definition was (loosely) Chick-lit but with a more mature woman in mind – fiction that features women protagonists dealing with women’s issues. Novels depicting the female journey through life.

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      • “Women’s issues”? As virtually all these novels feature relations with male lovers, spouses and friends, why are they just “women’s issues”? It is true that most men these days are spiritually and emotionally teenagers, Which is why I’m enjoying lesbian fiction lately – the characters are more likeable.

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  9. Some part of me thinks it has to do with the act of sitting still, reading is a mental activity, not a physical one. My dad and my brothers occasionally read non-fiction, usually to do with a particular topic they are interested in, but ultimately they are very outdoorsy and active, and if they aren’t working, they want to be out running or hiking or in some way engaging their bodies. Obviously they aren’t all men, and plenty of women enjoy those activities as well, but the men in my life who have been readers of fiction haven’t had that same need for physical activity. Just something I noticed.

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  10. Sandra says:

    Interesting 🙂 And no one in among your very insightful commentators has mentioned what came into my head, so I’ll say it myself! I wonder if it’s to do with the differences in our language centres in the brain? Women use more words – we talk more; there are studies to demonstrate as much I believe. We use words – be they through talk or perhaps through the written word – to resolve problems, to clarify matters, to clear our heads. Maybe words feature more highly for women in general? Men don’t have the same need to use language recreationally?

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  11. bibliobeth says:

    Love this post Lynne. I’ve often wondered why there is such a big gender gap in reading! 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  12. skyecaitlin says:

    You raise an excellent question: I am very reluctant to take a stand on a gender issue for many reasons, but as a retired teacher of English, most of my professors at the university were male, when I taught, many of my colleagues were men. I see men reading at Barnes and Noble, and my husband read, too, even though it was Tolkien ( over and over and over again); and my son is a voracious reader, as well.

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  13. My OH reads 2 or 3 books a year, while we are on holiday and yet, each time he really enjoys it and says he should do it more, he doesn’t read at home at all. I think perhaps in his case because he likes computer games with all the action and if not that he just wants to watch TV and reading isn’t as immediately exciting as computer games or quite as mindless as TV viewing – then, he was never a big reader as a child and I think that is what sets you up in adulthood.

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  14. My husband and I are perfect specimens for this discussion. He reads almost exclusively non fiction while I,of course, prefer fiction. He says he doesn’t like fiction much because ot doesn’t offer practical advice. He likes things being said straight and simple e.g. “how to make yourself richer? Do this this and this”. I on the other hand, love to take things apart, analyse them, observe, and make my own conclusions based on my own experience.

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  15. carhicks says:

    This is quite an interesting post. As a retired teacher librarian and administrator this was a big issue in elementary school. Boys tended to read non-fiction, comic books and graphic novels. We purchased action, adventure, fantasy and other things boys said they liked, but only a few read them. I believe it starts at home. My son saw me reading, we read together and we read to him and as a result, he reads fiction. A lot is fantasy but it is fiction. He now reads to his children regularly.

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  16. Great post! My son’s 11 and claims to hate reading, I keep trying to tell him he’s just not found the right books for him. But I guess it’s hard for a book to compete with computer games 😂 As Im typing this comment, I’m thinking, maybe he might like audiobooks 🤔

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    • I often wonder about children his age. They are SO very influenced by what their peers do and think. I bet if his friends openly enjoyed reading, he would too. Also, how many men/boys on television do any amount of reading? Reading is not TV friendly (who wants to watch someone read?), therefore other pursuits by men are portrayed often. There is no easy answer, but I don’t believe that it is in the genes. I think society has a lot to answer for.
      Good idea about the audiobooks. Perhaps that will spark his interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Norrie says:

    This is a super interesting topic! I actually wrote my essay for my diploma about this 10 years ago. my specific research was about teenage readers though, but it was the same result: girls read more than boys, and there was even this idea that reading is considered a feminine activity…

    considering that not so long ago women were not even allowed to read, it’s quite a change

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Why do authors and publishers dissuade men from reading their books by labelling them “women’s fiction”? As a mature man I love books about relationships and moral and spiritual issues but feel like an intruder. Granted though, most men today are simply teenagers mentally and emotionally. Until we learn to teach boys and men real spiritual and emotional values, they will continue to be impoverished.

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  19. Really interesting post! I totally agree with your thoughts that “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.” My husband and teenage son both love to read fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, although the computer has become more of a draw lately for the teenager.

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  20. Carrie Rubin says:

    You make good observations here. I wonder if it’s a time thing too. We all have so little downtime, maybe men simply use theirs on other hobbies, like sports or fishing. As they get older, maybe a window for reading opens up. Or maybe when they’re younger, things like video games are much more enticing to them. But as for me, I’ll stick with my books!

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  21. Men find relaxation in more physical ways. If not, then TV or brain games (puzzles etc)? Not sure, but with internet and Siri don’t even have to read non-fiction anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting point about non-fiction. The internet has impacted our lives greatly. I know from working many years in a public library that the staffing dynamic has completely changed. The staff that were once employed on the reference desk are now doing other tasks… Encyclopedias, once so common in homes, have been completely usurped by the internet.

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  22. Holly B / Dressedtoread says:

    My husband won’t read fiction! He thinks it is a waste of his time, but he loves non-fiction and political books. I have no idea why!

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  23. I read pretty much everything but thrillers and sci-fi, concentrating on history and non -fiction at the moment. That being said, my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in history, so I may not be a fair sample. From working in a large bookstore, I can say that the majority of marketing for books is aimed at women- so while it might be men not considering it as a past-time, marketers aren’t even trying to suggest it. Mind-boggling.

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    • You are SO correct about book marketing. They are appealing to a female audience more often than not. I’m thinking in particular of the myriad novels out now with a handsome man showing off his six-pack on the cover… Another cover device that has been overused.

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  24. Barb Saffer says:

    Very interesting analysis. I agree that men sometimes think they have ‘better things to do.’

    Liked by 1 person

  25. FictionFan says:

    I don’t know, but it starts at an early age. Getting boys to read books at school is often a real chore, whereas lots of girls take to it like fish to water. Is it because we still gear boys towards more physical activities – sports and such – maybe? I also think the subject matter of the majority of hyped books is very much geared towards women – understandable if they’re the largest market, but hardly likely to suck reluctant male readers in…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perhaps we as a society should make it our mission to promote the reading of fiction by boys a priority. There is still a gender stereotype that is adhered to by many parents who think that reading is a ‘girly’ thing to do. Hard to credit it in this day and age.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. This is an interesting post. I can’t offer any reasons why more women read more fiction than men, but it is definitely a thought provoking statistic.

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  27. Cauz men are idiots. Sorry, just kidding. I think it has to do with how the majority of men are raised. To be providers and protectors. Men who read are often the intelligent types who are less macho and don’t talk much. Men who would rarely get physical. Most parents don’t raise their sons to be like the reading man.

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