British men read far fewer books by female authors, despite the fact that ratings on Goodreads suggest they enjoy them, on average, marginally more than books by men. These reading habits suggest the continuing existence of an unconscious bias that sees women as less authoritative.
According to MA Sieghart, author of The Authority Gap, who commissioned a study by Nielsen Book Research, male readers are significantly less likely to opt for fiction books written by women. Of the top ten best-selling female authors, including Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, and Danielle Steel, only one of five readers are male, whereas for the top male authors, including Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, 45% of readers are women. Meanwhile, data on Goodreads shows that enjoyment levels are not impacted by sex – on Goodreads, men give an average rating of 3.9 out of 5 to books by women while they give books by men an average of 3.8.
Male writers have long dominated literature and despite greater attention and acclaim increasingly being paid to female authors by the publishing industry and media, male readers are not following suit. “Men, consciously or unconsciously, don’t accord female authors as much authority as male ones,” says Sieghart. She suggests that this reflects a wider issue around who society perceives as authoritative. “It’s because, however much lip service we pay to gender equality these days, we still instinctively find it easier to accord authority to men than to women,” she says. But there are opportunities to tackle this: for example, the rise of bookfluencers could play an important role in ensuring male readers recognise the appeal of female authors.