A survey (n = 2,000) conducted as part of the U.K.'s National Year of Reading (2008) suggests that men are less likely to finish books than women (Telegraph, UK 2009). The Guardian (UK, 2009) reports this as women knowing how to "read properly", while the Telegraph points out that men reported being more likely to lie about their reading habits to impress a member of the opposite sex (46% to 33%). These findings are not entirely surprising nor limited to the U.K.: in a Dutch study (n = 664), Verboord (2005) found that women's book reading was 16% higher than men's. In a smaller U.S. study (n = 115), Scales and Rhee (2001) found that 41% of women vs 16% of men reported reading novels.
It's worth pointing out that these three surveys appear to be asking very different questions: do you finish what you read, how often do you read, and what do you like to read? However, Verboord did report high levels of concordance between reported answers on how often people read, how many books they finish, and when they last finished a book. Perhaps relevant is Rehberg Sedo's (2003) (n = 252) study of book club participants, who were 85% female: however, this probably says more about the social reading environment than with actual volume of reading.
If nothing else, this would seem to be support for the oft-cited female comfort with language-based tasks versus spatial or mathematical tasks. On the other hand, it might also be support for a female tendency to report more socially desirable behaviors: I don't think anyone is likely to argue that women are under social pressure not to read. If anything, women's vocal involvement in social reading (such as book clubs) might cause underreporting of reading in men. There's really no way to know how close the self-report in these (all retrospective) studies is to reality. I was hoping to find a reading diary study, but since diary-keeping tends to improve performance of desired behaviors, that couldn't be applied to the general population anyway.
Find out the day's topic before you read: follow diffblog on Twitter! Diffblog also available on LiveJournal.
Take the Difference Blog Reader Poll