Boys and Reading

 NAEP gender reading

NAEP gender reading key

The graph above shows an amazingly consistent pattern regarding the reading achievement of girls (top line) and boys (bottom line). While this graph highlights the longitudinal data of 13 year olds, the picture for 9 and 17 year olds looks remarkably the same.

Basically girls out score boys and have for 30 years across all age groups according to the National Test of Educational Progress (NAEP.)

Michael W. Smith & Jeff Wilhelm summarize the findings on boys and literacy in their book Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys (2002) pages 10&11:



  • Boys take longer to read than girls.
  • Boys read less than girls.
  • Girls tend to comprehend text significantly better than boys.
  • Boys tend to do better with information retrieval & work-related literacy tasks than girls.


  • Boys generally provide a lower estimate of their reading abilities than girls do.
  • Boys value reading as an activity less than girls do.
  • Boys have much less interest in leisure reading & are far more likely to read for utilitarian purposes than girls are.
  • Significantly more boys than girls declare themselves “nonreaders.”
  • Boys spend less time reading & express less enthusiasm for reading than girls do.
  • Boys increasingly consider themselves to be “nonreaders” as they get older; very few designate themselves as such early in their school, but nearly 50% make that designation by high school.


  • Boys and girls express interest in reading different things, and they do read different things.
  • Boys are more inclined to read informational texts.
  • Boys are more inclined to read more magazines and newspaper articles.
  • Boys are more inclined to read comic books and graphic novels.
  • Boys tend to resist reading stories about girls, whereas girls do not tend to resist reading stories about boys.
  • Boys are more enthusiastic about reading electronic texts than girls.
  • Boys like to read about hobbies, sports and things they might do or be interested in doing.
  • Boys like to collect things & like to collect series of books.
  • Poetry is less popular with boys than girls.
  • Boys tend to enjoy escapism and humor; some groups of boys are passionate about science fiction or fantasy.


  • The appearance of a book & its cover is important to boys.
  • Boys are less likely to talk about or overtly respond to their reading than girls are.
  • Boys prefer active responses to reading in which they physically act out responses, do or make something.
  • Boys tend to receive more open & direct criticism for weakness in their reading & writing performance.
  • Boys require more teacher time in coed settings.

I have been studying this data not only for my work life, but also so I can understand my own son better as a reader. As I read through the summary above, I am struck by the implications for teaching and learning.

  • Does our definition of reading include graphic novels, comic books, magazines and newspaper articles?
  • What is in our school libraries? Does it appeal to boys?
  • Do we inadvertently make boys feel like outsiders when they prefer informational text?
  • If boys do not like to talk about books what does that mean for common assessments such as the DRA – where students have to retell what happened?


I am doing a reading strategies series on my blog as professional development to explore our provincial document Me Read? And How! I found your points interesting and they very much so correspond to my reading.

I have three sons and have been deeply concerned about their reading development. Boy 1 is an avid reader, has an excellent vocabulary, and basically falls into female criteria (not the norm). I was more worried about the 2nd and 3rd who didn't seem as interested in reading, but practically overnight they became avid pleasure readers and are heading in the same direction; however, they only achieve at the provincial standard on the grade 3 and 6 reading/writing tests...they achieve above grade level occasionally. I keep wondering why...and my conclusion is that both my husband and I like reading, talk about what we're reading (even with them), and set the example of reading for pleasure.

Here's my first article that gives an overview:

I am going to add a comment about your blog entry at the end.

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