The most recent issue of THE NEW YORKER includes a long profile of Ian McEwan, by Daniel Zalewski. The entire article is interesting, but one small bit especially caught my attention. Three years ago, McEwan and his son conducted an experiment in a London park. They handed out thirty novels from McEwan's library (not his own novels) to persons chosen at random. In an essay in the GUARDIAN, McEwan gave the results: "Every young woman we approached...was eager and grateful to take a book," but the men "could not be persuaded. 'Nah, nah. Not for me Thanks, mate, but no.'"
Are women just more acquisitive, or do they read much more fiction? McEwan is convinced of the latter ("When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.") The Romance Writers of America boast that 68% of fiction sales in the United States are category romances, whose readers are overwhelmingly female.
Yet it seems to me that I know just as many men who read as women who do so. This is, of course, a small sample and probably not representative: I tend to know people because they read. And the SF community, a large fraction of my acquaintanceship, has a strong tradition of being male. But if it's true that, overall, many more women than men read fiction, the question becomes: Why?