A new poll reveals a deep gender divide in our reading habits. Goodreads, the Amazon-owned social media site for avid readers, surveyed 40,000 of their most active users (50% women and 50% men) in England about the books they read that were published in 2014. They found that though men and women read the same number of books, readers stick to authors of their own sex.
Goodreads found that 90% of the 50 most-read books by men were written by men. The converse was true for women: Only five of the 50 most-read titles by women were written by men (and that figure included The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith—the pen name of female Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling).
The survey was inspired by this year’s #readwomen movement, a campaign started by author Joanna Walsh in January. Walsh asked readers to try to balance out their bookshelves in 2014 by including oft-overlooked female authors on their reading lists. Though male and female authors are published in equal numbers, a yearly analysis by the organization Vida: Women in Literary Arts consistently finds that reviewers at top publications are predominantly male and more inclined to review books written by men.
Many female authors say that the way their books are packaged encourages readers and reviewers to take them less seriously. Writers like Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner complain that publishers give their books flowery “women-friendly” covers instead of gender-neutral ones—even if the cover does not reflect the content inside.
Picoult recently complained that her works are relegated to “chick-lit” even if they have depth, while male romance novelists like Nicholas Sparks get Hollywood deals for works that would be considered “airport fiction” if written by a woman.
The Goodreads survey reflected this bias among readers: It found that in the first year of publication only 20% of a female author’s audience will be men, while 50% of a male author’s audience will be women.
But the poll did reveal one piece of good news for women authors: Once they got past the covers, readers of both genders rated books by women more highly than books by men.