Boys don’t read?

Boys readI’ve already written about my fantastic annual pilgrimage to the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera last month. One of many interesting discussions for writers was the (terrifying?) assertion that boys don’t read.

Media consultant Porter Andersen discussed this interesting topic. When boys and girls are young, they are read to by their parents, caretakers, teachers, but as they grow, girls tend to continue to read, while boys register increasingly low levels of reading. The steep decline seems to begin at about 13.

An American poll shows that 57% of girls ages 6-17 report that they read for fun, while only 45% of boys in that age category say the same. This trend continues into adulthood. Women are the overwhelming majority of readers.

Why does this happen? Why do those budding young male readers in pre-schools and kindergartens the world over then disappear as they grow up? And, more importantly if you’re in the publishing industry, how the heck do you attract fifty percent of the population back into libraries and bookstores?

As Porter Andersen pointed out, we all play a role in the declining reading rates. As parents, aunts, uncles or family friends, we tend to reinforce stereotypes that boys don’t read. We purchase books for gifts for girls, but not for boys. Recent studies show that 61% of adult book purchases for teenagers (ages 15-18) are for teenage girls, while only 39% are book purchases destined for teenage boys.

As a mom of boys, I can believe this.

My boys read, and even enjoy discussing their books – but would they do so if their (abusive) parents weren’t forcing them to do so? I’m ashamed to say, probably not. I used to buy books for gifts for their friends. Now, I continue to do so for the girls, but I’m tired of doing so for their male friends when I know that sports equipment or video games will be appreciated more. Who wants to spend money to hear a groan or see a present tossed aside – unless it’s your own child, who has no choice. So yes, I agree that adults probably do give up buying books for boys.

What’s the answer? I honestly have no idea. I’m a fan of the cannon, and won’t be pushing any time soon to have acadamic curricula shedding great literature from our educational programs to have the spy novels and thrillers more favored by males. But I do agree we have to do all we can to get young boys reading.

What do you think, readers? Is there hope for a more gender-balanced readership in the future? What are your experiences in seeing how young boys and girls read? Any advice to overcome the gender reading divide?


  1. wordfoolery on October 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    I won’t fight the stats but I do think it’s a case of “what” they read. Many men read more non-fiction than fiction but that’s still reading. I was lucky to be reared in a home filled with books and my father is a compulsive reader. My DH would say he doesn’t read but he devours technical books, articles and magazines – isn’t that reading too? So far both my son and daughter read happily. I think the key is picking good books – the son (12) particularly enjoys when we both read the same book and hence can discuss it later. Having said that I’ve given up buying books for his friends and my nephew (15) because none of them read willingly whereas I still give them to the female friends. I hope we’re not making this trend worse?

    • kimberlysullivan on October 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Great comments, Grace. Yes, when I went to this talk, I also realized how I ‘participated’ in making this trend worse by not buying books for my sons’ friends. But I can (and do) keep after my own sons so that they enjoy reading. Wishing you a great start to the weekend…

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