Historical Fiction Survey – She Says, He Says

Not surprisingly, women and men expressed different points of view in a recent survey of historical fiction readers. While 84% of participants were women, 129 men also responded, a sizeable number from which to draw conclusions.

Men and women have very different author preferences:

  • the top 5 for men are Bernard Cornwell, Ken Follett, CJ Sansom, Sharon Kay Penman and Patrick O’Brian; the top 5 for women are Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, Philippa Gregory, Diana Gabaldon and Bernard Cornwell
  • men prefer male authors; women prefer female authors

Women read more historical fiction than men:

  • 15.6% of men never read historical fiction compared with 4.5% of women
  • 45% of women report reading historical fiction at least half the time compared with 23% of men
  • men cite a preference for historical non-fiction and a lack of time as reasons to avoid historical fiction

And, there’s a wide difference in number of books read:

  • 55% of women read more than 30 books a year compared to 22% of men
  • 61% of women intend to read more than 30 books a year in future compared with only 28% of men

Genre and time period illustrate the Venus-Mars gap

  • women prefer strong female characters, the lives of significant historical figures or lesser known historical figures
  • men prefer significant historical figures, adventure stories and stories with a military angle
  • men dislike romance, women dislike military stories
  • favourite time periods for women are 13th-16th centuries and 19th century while men favour 19th and 20th century stories

Women are going digital more rapidly than men

  • women favour online sources for recommendations almost twice as much as men
  • men rely on newspapers and friends and browsing the bookstore more than women
  • men and women have switched to purchasing online in similar percentages, however women are more likely to use the library while men are more likely to buy at the bookstore
  • men are sticking with print books in much higher proportions than women

While reasons for reading HF overlap, the top reasons differ:

  • the top reason for women is to bring the past to life; men say they read historical fiction because it’s a great story

Personally, I’m surprised at the differences in digital activities and book reading habits. The survey data continues to be intriguing. As always, feedback is welcome.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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9 Responses

  1. These are interesting findings. I was most intrigued by the differences in favourite time periods. It’s a shame, though not surprising, that more men didn’t respond. I wonder if the gender divide is stronger in historical fiction than in other genres.

  2. Although something makes me uncomfortable about generalizations, especially the Mars vs. Venus type, I think you have conducted a very interesting study. Actually, I have always regarded historical fiction as a mostly female genre (hmm, so much for my skepticism about generalizations), ever since I read Mary Renault in 8th grade. One of my favorite historical non-fiction writers is (Dame) C.V. Wedgwood. There’s a lot here to think about.

  3. This is interesting indeed. As a former history teacher, the subject was always male dominated both in terms of figures studied and students who opted for the subject. Perhaps history fact was the difference – or maybe those who took part in the survey are female dominant because more women read blogs?

    1. The survey was distributed through a wide range of medium – not just blogs. That said, over 80% of participants were female. Part of the reason I did a he-says-she-says comparison 🙂

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