Do men and women read books differently?

by on March 24, 2009 at 7:18 am in Books | Permalink

One new study says yes:

A study of reading habits showed almost half of women are 'page
turners' who finish a book soon after starting it compared to only 26
per cent of men.

The survey 2,000 adults also found those who
take a long time to read books and only managed one or two a year were
twice as likely to be male than female.

Men are also more likely to have shelves full of books that have never been opened.

The
only similarities between the sexes came among those who have two books
on the bedside table at once and who start one book on the middle of
reading another, switching easily. Twelve per cent of women were in
this category – exactly the same number as men.

1 Alex J. March 24, 2009 at 8:37 am

When my wife is reading a book, I go about my business. When I am reading a book, my wife gets a spontaneous insatiable urge to chat. I take much longer to read books and have shelves full of books that have never been opened.

2 Bushequalhitler March 24, 2009 at 8:48 am

Do they read books differently, or do they read different books? I hate to channel Larry Summers here, but if women read Sandra Brown or Dan Brown while men read James Joyce or non-fiction, I could see how women would read faster and men would have shelves of never opened books.

3 john March 24, 2009 at 9:06 am

I’ll let you know what I think about the article when I finish reading it in a few days or so.

Nice picture, though, huh?

4 blank March 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

Who taught women to read? They should stick to important stuff like washing my clothes

5 Zbicyclist March 24, 2009 at 10:13 am

Might not be a sex difference so much as an occupation effect.

I’d likely read fiction all the way through, but if I was trying to fix a compressor or figure out how to control the mildew on my squash, or look up how to run a Tobit model I’d just turn to that section in the book.

I’d no more start at the front and go to the back in a short time than I’d read the NYSE tables starting with “A” and ending with “Z” every morning.

6 athelas March 24, 2009 at 10:42 am

One is tempted to refer to the Coolidge effect here.

7 jorod March 24, 2009 at 11:06 am

Substance is more important than quantity. I would say 90% of what people read is crap.

8 Tracy March 24, 2009 at 11:54 am

Seems accurate for my household. My daughter and I read things quickly, my husband takes longer. My son is too young to read anything long enough to make a distinction.

I don’t know if I agree with the theory above that content changes the habit. A little, but not totally. My husband doesn’t read anything fast, fiction or non-fiction. He has no problem marking a page in a novel he’s enjoying and coming back later. I will read instructional books more slowly than novels, but I will still try to get through it as quickly as possible – usually no more than a week, depending on the subject. I read other non-fiction almost as quickly as novels. I’d read a novel in one sitting if I could get away with it.

We all like having shelves of books around, including the kids. We tend to buy multiple books in one or two purchases and then spend a few months reading them, so there are usually a few we haven’t opened yet. There are more books on the shelves that my husband has not read than there are those that I haven’t, but part of that is based on taste – I tend to buy more books for myself because I read faster, and they’re not always books he wants to read.

9 ami March 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm

on one hand… no no no I’m female and read mostly non-fiction and some literary fiction, not idiotic romances blah blah blah…

on the other hand… I’ve always equated female time spent reading romance novels with male time spent looking at porn…?

10 Garth Wood March 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm

My wife reads mysteries and almost nothing else (she’ll read a bodice-ripper if desperate).  She’s also partial to logic puzzle magazines.

I read history, economics, political philosophy, biographies, computer science, math, science fiction, popularizations of science, and (!) cookbooks.  (I’m the house-husband and chief cook & bottlewasher.)

She finishes all her books.  By the time I’m through the first 50 pages or so, I’m in a position to know whether or not I should finish a book.  The remaining years of my life are too precious to waste reading a book to the end and then thinking “There’s X hours of my life I’ll never have back.”

The last book I read that I should have stopped after 50 pages was “Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History” by James A. Morone.  Interesting thesis that was treated in a tendentious and overblown fashion, and ultimately beaten to death.  In fact, 50 pages (a very short Master’s thesis or a long graduate position paper) would have been about the right length.

Of course I don’t finish all my books.  The unworthy ones get recycled (can’t bring myself to sell ’em to some other unsuspecting soul…)

11 deep6 March 24, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I’m a woman who reads constantly. I’m also in school and read for professional licensing. Because I have to read textbooks such as C++ programming books and economics tomes for classes/exams, when I read in my spare time I like to pick up “fluff” novels, ranging from romances to science-fiction. I particularly enjoy urban fantasy. It’s all about escapism.

Compared to my boyfriend, who can’t finish a book to save his life, though he has quite an impressive bookshelf, I’d be prepared (anecdotally) to support the results of the study. I’d be more confident in the overall quality of the study if I knew what organization actually conducted it.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “lowbrow” fiction. You’re still learning sentence structure, grammar, and possibly even new vocabulary. Readers should try to supplement entertainment reading with more challenging reading, but if they don’t, shouldn’t we at least be happy that the time spent reading isn’t spent watching the latest nasty reality show on TV?

12 hern March 24, 2009 at 5:35 pm

man oh man there’s some blunt commentary on here. like laugh out loud ridiculously hilarious generalizations people are throwing out.

allow me the pleasure of highlighting this:

“When my wife is reading a book, I go about my business. When I am reading a book, my wife gets a spontaneous insatiable urge to chat”

“Who taught women to read? They should stick to important stuff like washing my clothes”

“…the books women read are, more often than not, romance novels or other sorts of lowbrow fiction.”

…small sample size!

also something to note, the article came from the telegraph. i am assuming the poll was conducted in the UK as well. and i hypothesize the culture of reading in the US and UK vary drastically. i dont know any guys in california that read shakespeare to woo women. but then again my age might have something to do with it.

13 Careless March 24, 2009 at 6:34 pm

“When my wife is reading a book, I go about my business. When I am reading a book, my wife gets a spontaneous insatiable urge to chat.”

Ha, just like my wife. It was impossible to read with her around until our daughter was born.

14 rg March 24, 2009 at 9:22 pm

It might just be a matter of what is leisurable. Most of the big times readers that I have meet in my life are women. It just seems like the kind of thing that the male brian doesn’t really enjoy or develope an enjoyment for until later in life. It might also have to do with brian structure. Women might be able to read faster or find, on average, that reading is enjoyable because of a differant perspective in the action of reading

15 Douglas Knight March 25, 2009 at 1:11 am

Something like half of people who read *at all* are women who only read romance novels. Once you eliminate them, the sexes are surely more similar.

16 alex March 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm

As a few other commenters have suggested, I’d be surprised if these results hold up very well when you control for *what* is being read. Of course, how one reads and what one reads is all mixed up together, so its not clear what one would learn from that (something though, I think).

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