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In Defense of Boys Who Don’t Read As Well As Girls

November 2, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Boys have a bad reputation when it comes to reading.  Conventional wisdom says that boys don’t read as well as girls, and even when boys are capable enough to read as well, boys tend to skim more material and skip pages.

At least, according to this study, boys don’t read as closely.  I don’t always trust studies like this.  Too many things can go wrong or be done incorrectly, but I don’t necessarily disagree with the conclusion of the study.  I haven’t done any costly, time-consuming research. I’m just using  my own personal experiences and anecdotal evidence.

Full disclosure: I’m a male who is supposedly a pretty good reader, and I know exactly what this study is talking about.  I skip pages (every once in a while), and I skim.  I’ve even taken credit for reading books which I’ve never even opened (but I don’t do that anymore).

Instead of complaining about boys’ poor reading habits, I want to explain why it happens.  To do this, I have to use some stereotypes and generalities.  When I say “boys,” I don’t mean all boys, and when I say “girls,” I don’t mean all girls.  If you don’t fit the gender role that I’m talking about, you don’t need to bash me for it.  I’ve already been pre-bashed.

Enough people complain about boys not reading well, and I don’t want to pile on, but it’s pretty simple.  Boys don’t read closely because there are other things to do.  It’s not practical to read everything.  To us, reading is often more like a task to complete than an activity to enjoy.

While growing up, I knew a bunch of boys who didn’t like reading and weren’t that good at it, so I understand the mentality.  They saw reading as a waste of time when there was so much living to do.  They knew how to read.  They were capable of reading.  Reading was what they might do if there was nothing else to do.

Boys read less carefully because we/they have other things we want to think about.  We tend to be more task-oriented, so we see reading as a goal that must be completed.  Even if I’m reading a book for fun, I’ll still have a goal of when I want to finish it.  The subconscious goal then becomes more important than the enjoyment of reading the book.  Sometimes I’m not even aware of it.

It’s not laziness, as some parents and teachers might imply.  Boys don’t pay as close attention because it’s not as important to them.  In high school, my best friend couldn’t focus on a textbook, but he could read and memorize a TV Guide.  That’s where his priorities were.  Since TV Guides aren’t relevant anymore, the kid today who struggles reading history can probably memorize lineups for fantasy football.

Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to become more immersed in the experience of reading a book. Females can get emotionally caught up in a book more than most males do.   That’s why women cry more at movies than men do.  Part of it is empathy, but a lot of it is that while something emotional is happening in the movie, the woman is caught up in the emotion and the man is calculating how much time is left in the movie.

This applies to our adult conversations as well.  When women (such as girlfriends or wives) claim we men are not paying attention, it’s not that we’re ignoring our girlfriends/wives.  When women think we men aren’t paying attention, our minds aren’t wandering; we’re just thinking ahead.  We’re thinking of other stuff, some of which might be really important.  Hopefully that other stuff isn’t other women (but that’s a separate issue).

If anything, we men don’t get enough credit for how much we think.    If all that thinking ahead means that boys don’t read as closely as girls, then so be it.

So instead of criticizing boys for not reading as well as girls, we should be encouraging them.  Good job, boys!  Keep on thinking ahead about other stuff!


It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.  If you like reading, you’ll probably like my ebook, though you might not read it as closely if you’re a guy.

  1. I’m not sure I agree with this.

    Firstly, if boys don’t read because there are better and far more important things to do, how do so many get sucked into video games? That’s even more pointless than books.

    Secondly, girls have far more to do than boys growing up in most cultures. Along with reading more, girls also outperform boys in school because we do our homework, while making time to spend 3 hours on the phone with girlfriends chatting up a storm. At the same time we’re learning how to take care of boys, while boys don’t learn those same chores. We learn to cook, do laundry, wash the dishes, vaccuum, pick out linen etc etc. That’s the gender role we’ve always occupied.

    Thirdly, psychologists/psychiatrists have proven time and time again that women are not just the thinkers but the overthinkers. That’s why we read too much into the simplest things, and why a woman becomes so involved in books/movies. Boys/men on the other hand, are notorious for doing first and regretting later. This is a standing joke between me and my friends (90% of which are male) and I’ve yet to have one disagree.

    Fourthly, men don’t listen as well because communication is more important to women than men. Men are independent doers and women are collective planners.

    Since those are the main premises of your argument, I guess I’m sure sure I don’t agree. I think boys read less because intellectual achievement isn’t a part of becoming a “man” in their minds at that age, while girls learn very early we have to be twice as smart to gain half the credibility.

    Just my two cents – perhaps more.

    • Video games are very different from books, because there is very little empathy with characters in a video game as opposed to a book or movie characters. This also explains why males tend to prefer movies with a lot of action and explosions than rom-coms and drama where you have to empathize with characters.
      As for intellectual advancement – I don’t think that more than 10-20% of school-age either boys or girls actually explicitly set that goal for themselves. The rest goes to school because of friends, sports, or just because they have to. I think the percentage improves by college, but not anywhere near majority for either gender.

      • Again, I disagree.

        I grew up with boys playing video games. In fact, I played with them and still play today. My husband is a collector.

        Ever seen one lose? They get mad. Ever seen one lose to a girl? They get madder. Many also become attached to characters in role playing games, and tie their sense of achievement to advancement in that virtual reality.

        As for the movie remarks. I don’t watch romantic comedies. My Netflix is all British series and action films. My mom loves horror films. My grandmother and my dad love comedy. So, so much for that. Can’t relate so can’t speak to that generalisation.

        As far as intellectual achievement, I let the numbers speak for themselves. In virtually every country with equal education opportunities for both genders, girls get better grades, have higher literacy rates, and have higher levels of education. So whether they planned to do all that or not, the fact is: it happens anyway.

  2. boys are naturally visuals so they tend to be more engaged in video games….. unlike girls who are hopelessly romantics and analyzers….. that is why they are poles apart….. and it is the spice of the universe to have differentiated creatures on planet earth….. however, are men from mars and women from venus?

  3. I’m going to take an ironic moment and chuckle a little that so far the comments have been all female – not that I’m assuming any men skimmed through this post themselves (:

    There are some interesting points in there. I can understand the efficiency/logical reason behind why one might think reading is a task that takes time outside of our physical lives, and I totally understand how personal priority would lead one to memorize the line ups for fantasy football (I have 10 years worth of Friends in my head) but I have to say the thinking ahead part for boys is quite optimistic. I’d love to believe it, absolutely – I suppose outside of reading, boys also didn’t place too much importance of commuting those thoughts across . Also aware of the irony that you are in fact a male who took the time and effort to write this anecdote out as an explanatory so I guess I’ve lost my point haha

  4. hm, I don’t know. My Dad was an avid reader. Not so much for enjoyment, but for learning reasons, but nevertheless. So was I (not so much for learning resons).
    But this was back at a time, when easy accessible entertainment or news were hard to get – pre-tv times. Pre – internet times. At a VERY boring place.
    So maybe this is part of the explanation. As long as there is nothing else to really catch your attention, every human likes reading. And if there is no literacy, it might be telling and listening to stories.

  5. I’m don’t think I really agree with your assessment. Take my niece & nephew & G-d daughter. My nephew won’t sit down and try to read, not because he’s thinking ahead, it’s because he doesn’t want to work that hard, he just wants to play. He’s old enough to sit still and read, but won’t. The girls love reading. They’re both younger than he is, and they’ll read anything, even struggle through an old VCR manual because it’s there. And there’s no emotional attachment there.

    Second example. A cousin of mine has 5 (now adult) kids: 4 boys and 1 girl. The boys are ALL strong believers that if it’s worth reading, it will become a movie or TV show. One of them taught himself to read for a job, the other learned to read (barely) as a requirement to living with my parents, the 3rd joined the army and learned to read because I would write him long letters; the first few replies were agony: no more than 10 words, and grammatically a nightmare to the extent that I had to read his responses 3 or 4 times to grasp what he was saying. He got significantly better over time. The fourth one still hasn’t bothered to learn even the basics. The girl on the other hand, is very well read since she was a child. And has always excelled at it.

    A third example is that my husband reads all day every day for work and he reads much slower than I do. I read much faster, but what I read is not emotionally moving, I read everything. I just enjoy it. And yes, our comprehension skills are equivalent.

    Also, until recently (the last 60 years or so) men HAD to focus on the dry material to read like briefs b/c they were the attorneys. They can’t skip around just because they want to. They HAVE to focus. And in my own family I have seen that girls read better than boys, even as attorneys with equivalent training.

    So, I don’t agree with you, although I understand where you come from.

  6. Anonymous permalink

    First in reply to the last paragraph: Men don’t pay attention because they plan ahead. Well, that’s not a good idea as an excuse to that bad habit. Maybe the woman he’s talking to wants a say in his next plans. – Assuming they involve her. If not it’s even more rude to think of other stuff. – He’ll miss all her arguments. And next he’ll complain that she always complains. 😉

    Second: Boys understand reading as task to do if nothing else is there to do. Well, I assume they didn’t stumble about some really gripping books at the right point in time. Today computer games tell the stories that earlier generations read in science fiction or adventure books. Plus visual immersion! No wonder books in general can’t compete today. On the other hand: a gripping book is an exercise in imagination. That is they key why girls love books.

    Besides, if boys want to learn to understand girls they should read Harry Potter. Between action and adventure Hermione steps in to explain the most mysterious creature in the world. 😉

  7. Don’t understand, why this thing doesn’t recognise me. A few months later and this stuff is broken.
    Last comment was mine.

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