"Both publishers and pollsters can tell you that readers of fiction are more likely to be female." according to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail
“Women read more, they read more novels, they read earlier and they read later. Sixty-five to 70 per cent of the [Canadian] book market is women,” observes Brad Martin, president of Random House of Canada, adding that the American and European markets are probably similar. “How many men do you know who are in a book group?”While these are the views of those in the Canadian book trade, based on results of surveys, The Economist takes a detailed look at the current scientific understanding of gender differences and says "Men and women think differently. But not that differently."
No surprise, then, that when the federal Department of Canadian Heritage surveyed Canadian reading habits last year, it found a distinct gender gap. Women accounted for 60 per cent of the daily readers and 70 per cent of the heavy readers who had read 50 or more books in the last 12 months. Women also outnumbered men two to one as regular readers of both classic and contemporary novels.
The divide is not new: The department's previous survey, in 1991, had found similar results, while academics can trace the characterization of novel reading as a genteel — or frivolous — female pursuit as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the gender gap is both particularly pronounced and much debated these days, partly because publishers have exploited it so successfully with their marketing strategies, and partly because teachers and parents are so concerned that boys lag behind girls in their literacy skills.
Vancouver writer and literary critic George Fetherling complains that men only read those novels in which they can directly identify with the protagonist, while women will read about people different from themselves. That's the most common explanation of the phenomenon: Reading fiction involves empathizing with the characters, and thus draws on women's traditional emotional strengths. Men, on the other hand, turn to non-fiction to learn about the world around them.
“While men read and many men read voraciously, they tend to read non-fiction, history, finance and sports,” observes Doug Pepper, president and publisher of McClelland & Stewart. “I wish it were more evenly split but it does make it easier for us because we can identify our market.”
Both Smith and Kanya-Forstner argue that men are drawn to books about ideas, and both think publishers have failed to recognize that in their marketing schemes for fiction. “Guys look for ideas,” says Smith. “Very intelligent men I talk to, none of them read fiction. It's girl stuff: hundreds and hundreds of pages of feelings. To think that no one perceives fiction as being about ideas is depressing.”
When boys and girls are born, they are already different, and they favour different toys from the beginning. That boys and girls—and men and women—are programmed by evolution to behave differently from one another is now widely accepted. But which of the differences between the sexes are “biological”, in the sense that they have been honed by evolution, and which are “cultural” or “environmental” and might more easily be altered by changed circumstances, is still fiercely debated. ...
The theory put forward to explain what happened—and the similar innate preferences of human children—is that the toys preferred by young females are objects that offer opportunities for expressing nurturing behaviour, something that will be useful to them later in life. Young males, whether simian or human, prefer toys that can be used actively or propelled in space, and which afford greater opportunities for rough play.
... although it is commonly held that there are reliable differences between the verbal abilities of males and females, Dr Hines suggests this is not exactly correct. She says that the results of hundreds of tests of vocabulary and reading comprehension show there is almost no gap between the sexes. Though teenage girls are better at spelling than teenage boys, the only aspect of verbal ability that is known to show a sex difference in adults is verbal fluency (the ability to produce words rapidly). For example, when asked to list as many words as possible that start with a particular letter, women usually come up with more than men. Furthermore, even when there are differences in ability between the sexes, research suggests that the scale of these differences is often smaller than people generally believe.