Friday, May 14, 2010

Reading and the Gender Gap, Part II: Book Blogging

Last week, we posted some thoughts about the gender gap and reading. In the comments, a couple of readers mentioned an even wider such gap among book bloggers. The Ape had noticed this as well and decided to do a little barely-at-all scientific study to see what the numbers might be.

Our data set was registered members of the Book Blog Ning, of which there are currently more than 6000. Clearly, this was too many to handle, so instead we used the handy little “Random” sort option to give us a nominally unbiased sample size.

We then set out to gather data from 100 active book bloggers; the two requirements for “active book blogger” were that the blog had to be primarily, though not exclusively, about books and had to have been updated in the past month. If a blogger's gender wasn't readily identifiable, we didn’t count it among the 100 and moved on (this happened only twice).

While gender was our primary interest, we did a secondary look for what the Ape calls “social-book blogging activity.” This includes book-related memes, reading challenges, and intra-blog badges and affiliations. This was clearly a more subjective evaluation, but so be it.

Out of the 100 book blogs surveyed, 92 were run by women.

Of the 100 book blogs surveyed, 70 participated in social-book blogging activity. Of those 70, 66 were women.

The gender gap among the wider reading public is even more pronounced in the book blogosphere, where women apparently outnumber men somewhere in the 10-1 range. The difference in social book –blogging activity is extreme, somewhere in the 15-1 range.

If one organizes these three book-related activities (reading, book-blogging, and social book-blogging) according to social interaction, we can see that the more “social” the reading-related activity, the more pronounced the gender spread will be. Based on anecdotal evidence, gender differences in book clubs and groups would probably yield similar results.

Half-formed thoughts
So here’s the question that emerges: might gender differences in reading habits be caused by the different ways men and women socialize around books? Or is it the other way around?

If there were a direct correlation between social reading activity and baseline reading habits, then we would expect something less than the 10-1 spread in the gender of book bloggers. This suggests that the social role of reading might be a source of the reading gap itself; reading is more of social activity for women and it would make sense that this encourages more women to read.

What Else We’d Like to Know
How do men and women gather information about books? We’ve heard that a significant amount of book buying occurs because of a personal recommendation, so it stands to reason that if women are more social about books, then they are more likely to get these recommendations and turn them into sales/reads.

What is the gender spread in non-blogging social reading habits? (Book clubs, Good Reads, Library Thing, Amazon Reviewing)

What, if any, are the differences between what male book bloggers and what female book bloggers do?

The Ape is always appreciative of comments, but in this particular we’d especially like to hear your thoughts (fellow book bloggers, we’re looking at you).


  1. Interesting survey! I look at the numbers in a slightly different way to you though....
    You found 8 blogs written by men and 4 of these participated in social reading. Doesn't that mean that 50% of male bloggers do so, against 66% of women - not a very large difference considering the male sample size? I do think men and women will tend to do things slightly differently, but I'm afraid I couldn't tell you how in this case!

  2. Jackie- 66 women out of the 92 total women bloggers did some kind of social book blogging, so that's a little over 71% of them, compared to the 50% of men, but your point is well-taken.

    If I new more about statistics, I'd like to know what number of the 6000 members I'd have to survey to get a reasonable guess.

  3. What is social book blogging? Do you mean bloggers that interact with other bloggers? That is an interesting study- not that I wasn't aware of the gender gap, but because of posing the question on how men and women socialize around books. Hmm...

  4. Aarti-

    Yea, my terminology is a little misleading. I'm trying to describe a certain kind of intra-book blog activity, including book memes, scheduled group reading activities, book blog awards, reading challenges, etc. Basically a kind of meta-socializing above and beyond regular blogging activities (linking, commenting, etc).

  5. All the best book recommendations I've ever had are from male friends. They've said, 'Bethany, I read a book that you'll love.' And they're never wrong.

    Female friends rarely recommend books to me (again, because most of my avid reader friends are male anyway) but this is partially because the few times they have the books have been dreadful, or they've been about some sensationalist piece of bore.

  6. I think women are more socially-active so it's possible that they have am advantage when it comes to harnessing the power of social media, and socializing in general.

    I've noticed that women seem to interact more in comment sections, sometimes turning a comment to a post into an actual conversation. Guys, for the most part, seem to not be as inter-active...and I believe interaction is what gives a blog most of it's power.

  7. I think we should invite Malcolm Gladwell to this conversation...

  8. Are you ready for a long comment? My personal reading habits were formed early, and were mostly very private in nature. I was one of those freakishly bookish kids who hid high up in a tree to read, hardly a social activity. Reading is primarily a private activity, but I do have the desire to reflect on what I've read, write about what I've read, and share my thoughts publicly (in that order). My observations as a teacher (high school) are that both boys and girls read, probably slightly more girls than boys. The majority of my students do not read in the intense, focused way that I associate with being a reader. They read text messages and facebook, and other social networking sites. When I see a student deeply immersed in a book, I cheer inwardly. I still have more to say but will stop before I become a bore!

  9. I'm going to raise a point based on anectdotal evidence but which I think might contribute to the imbalance. It's pretty clear that women read more than men, so it would stand to reason that there would be more "book blogs" written by women. What I think might further contribute to this is that "book blogs" generally focus on fiction/literature. Men (and here's where I'm relying on anecdote and speculation) tend to read more non-fiction. Those that read may very well be blogging about books, but those blogs fall under categories other than "book blogs." Just a thought.

  10. Bethany- One other thing that I noticed in my little survey was the predominance of genre/YA lit blogs, especially among female book bloggers. I wonder if the kind of fandom behavior that comes with these categories is markedly different than more general readers.

    Darkwyrm- Yea, I think that's pretty much true, though I do follow some sports blogs and the men are pretty active in commenting, etc. I do think we can chalk some of the lack of book-blogging by men as part of wider difference in socializing, but I don't think it explains the whole thing.

    Clint- Hmmmm. WWGT? (What Would Gladwell Think)

    Bibliophiliac- You're far from becoming a bore. Like many interests, reading and talking about reading has benefited so much from the kind of distance interaction the Internet allows. Probably most of the really active bloggers fit your model (and my experience as well) of being the "bookish" kid growing up and revel in the chance to find like-minded others.

    Pete- That's definitely an element, though we're just getting further down the rabbit hole. So why do women read more "literature" than men? Curiouser and curiouser.

  11. On a historical note: the novel is a relatively young genre. Who had the leisure time for reading novels? The educated young Victorian women who had no real defined place in society, except as the "angel in the house). (Note the really treacly and annoying poem by Coventry Patmore). There was quite a bit of public debate about the "danger" novels represented to the young, unformed female mind.

  12. I also notice an age gap. When asked age, I am usually the eldest.

  13. Given the comment about the large percentage of YA blogs, I think age is indeed a factor. Given that the younger generation has been using the new media for interaction with their peers, the YA blog may be a consequence of that.

    YA text each other, they're on facebook, they twitter (I presume) and if they're avid readers, they blog about their books, which are more likely to be YA books.

    Just guessing! Says Leeswammes, who is really called Judith, i.e., female, and way over the YA age.

    BTW On (a bit like goodreads) there are also very few men - maybe 1 in 30 are men.

  14. what is the gender or age ratio that have commented on this post, I'm guessing it will follow your previous results.Good subject tho

  15. interesting topic - my (anecdotal and limited) experience confirms this- -women reading more and blogging about it.