NPR recently released a list of Readers’ Top 100 YA Novels, and The Atlantic wasn’t the only one to notice how female authors dominated the field:
More than 75,000 votes were cast to cull the list of 235 finalists to the top 100. Also notable: Of those 235 titles, 147 (or 63 percent) were written by women—a parity that would seem like a minor miracle in some other genres. Female authors took the top three slots, and an approximately equal share of the top 100. As a comparison, you’d have to scroll all the way to number 20 on last summer’s Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy list to find a woman’s name (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).
I can think of any number of reasons why women might dominate young adult fiction, everything from institutional explanations (children’s publishers are overwhelmingly staffed by women) to genre (teen romance) to psychology (more on that in a minute), but I’m not sure any of them feel like a totally satisfactory explanation.
Peter Dudley says
I wonder how many of the female YA authors on the list have children, and how old those children were when they wrote their successful books.
I think you're right on the male MG author psychology. It's easy for an adult male author to identify with middle school boys. I've noticed that especially as a youth coach–before 6th grade, they're little kids. In middle school, you can start joking around with them, but you're still someone they look up to. As they get older, they act and think more like adults-in-training. Connecting with our inner juvenile, in that sort of safe, middle-grade fiction way, is fun for adult males.
One of the reasons I settled on YA, however, is that my boys have always "read up" and read a lot of YA when they were younger (10 to 12 years old). It's easy, as a father, coach, and other youth group leader, to connect with my target audience. While being a parent is no more a requirement to write YA than being an elf is a requirement to write good fantasy, I think it probably makes for an easier path. Especially for moms who have another breadwinner in the household–there's a very deep connection to the target audience, and those writers probably spend a lot of time already telling stories to children.
Just a thought. Overall, I don't really think it matters much. But it's fun to speculate.
Jack Holder says
This could have a connection with the education we each receive. Reading the comments, I think we all agree that women are more and more dominating the areas of early education, and top students. The stat of 60% of students in college being women has some bearing all the way back to middle school. Girls are taught at an early age to be literate, to read, to succeed in academia. Boys more and more are being taught that the most lucrative and rewarding venture they could have is swinging a bat or catching a football (I say this in full knowledge of my self-love of football). But young adults read what they can connect to. And in a broad general sweeping sense, women can write better women characters than men can.
Terin Tashi Miller says
Just got done camping for four days at a Scout camp with my son.
Found this in my email. Extremely interesting observation, I think.
But when is the last time someone actually looked at the fact female writers (in my estimation), and women in modern publishing, in fact, outnumber males now?
This has been a running theme, in fact, on some blogs where the prize winners are calculated for "literature" versus "YA" or the euphamistically termed "chick-lit."
As if, if it is written by a woman, it can't possibly qualify as "lit," on its own. It must have its own category.
Why, in fact, are most Pulitzer and other major literary award winners men? Do they actually write better books than, say, Jane Austen?
And then, to go beyond who writes, and who publishes (agents, acquisition editors, etc), a study could and perhaps should be done on who, exactly, demographically–and not by guessing or opinion–is reading what these days?
J.K. Rowling's popularity isn't merely from kids reading her Harry Potter series. It's also from Scholastic taking a chance on her stories, and from teens to adults liking her stories as well–it's own "Lord of the Rings" phenomenon, for a new generation.
I laugh at any concern this might cause anyone. If more men read, more men likely will write. It's possible men may write something men might like to read, just as its possible women might write something women like to read. Or that men write something women like to read (50 shades of grey?) or that women write something men like to read.
As for the prevalence of women writing and publishing more YA than men…hahahaha. Like I said, someone should check to see the sheer number of women writing versus men; the number of women in the publishing industry versus men, and perhaps, the greater awareness of kids' tastes for "classic" YA versus middle-grade YA? Or even (shudder the thought) why there ever was a YA genre devised, considering most of us were reading "classic YA" like Jack London's stories and Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school, before someone decided they were too deep or too well written or whatever for high school kids and decided they'd be better off and safer with the likes of "Mockingbird" or "Hunger Games"
As a female writer, I'm honestly just glad to hear we dominate any area of fiction! I thought the men dominated in all genres, so this is great news to me, esp. considering my critique partner thinks my book should be YA not middle-grade (as pitched). Yay!
Oops, forgot to sign my post.
This is what happens when the publishing industry is, in general, not as interested in female writers as male ones. Women who want to write gravitate to genres where they are more likely to be successful, and because the "important" genres are ones where male authors dominate, women end up writing in the ones that aren't seen as important. YA was given very little attention until recent years and wasn't seen as a "serious" genre. So it was just easier for a female author to break into that part of the industry.
I disagree with a lot of the other explanations being offered here. YA is more romance-focused so women tend to write it more? I think that gets the causation backward — YA isn't inherently about romance, it's that a lot of YA authors (most of them women) decided to put that element into their books. And if the issue was that women are more "in touch" with teens because they do more childcare — well, that's even more true of younger children, but men are still dominating in that publishing category.
And Nathan, I think your explanation misses the mark as well. In general, I'm skeptical when people posit an explanation for something like this that is based on the assumption of an inherent difference between men and women. It's too easy to assume that explains things when in reality there's usually a simpler, more concrete social factor (like the publishing industry's resistance to female authors).
Think of it this way: even if most women would say their high school years were most formative to them, and most men would say their middle school years were, presumably both men AND women think that adulthood is an important time in their life. But in almost every category of literature focused at adults, male authors vastly outstrip their female counterparts. That suggests that the distribution of successful authors isn't about author-interest nearly as much as publisher-interest.
Women read more fiction than men. Also, a lot of stay at home moms read a lot with their kids, so this might breed some story ideas.
Most guys I know read lots and lots of non-fiction, save for the gamers that will read tons and tons of fantasy novels.
Terin and Anon 8 a.m. Good points!
So, just to double-check, I went back to the article about the original research re. the 75% male/25%female ratio. I should mention that they don't consider the research conclusive or necessarily representative cross-industry because it excluded genre and commercial books, as well as having a small sample size. (Important point here, since many readers of Nathan's blog write and read commercial or genre).
The point of the research was to find out if the number of books (written by women) being reviewed reflected the gender breakdown of publication of books (likely to be reviewed).
So, they focused on book genres that are likely to be reviewed, and the 75%/25% reflects that.
Here's the link to the research, if anyone is interested:
I honestly think that it's just what happens to be "in" right now. Lots of focus on the romance. I know plenty of male authors in different genres that are not "in" at the moment, like sci-fi/fantasy for teens. They are known among kids who like to read that stuff, but I don't know if they would make it to the top 100 list when they have to compete with Twilight, The Hunger Games, and all the spin-off titles.
Jessica Peter says
Interesting comments all around! The one thing I couldn't help responding to was D.G. Hudson's comment speculating that for some women the teen years were the best of their life. . . It made me smile, because I write YA partially for the entire opposite reason – it was likely the worst part of my life (and many of my friend's lives), but it has such great opportunities for anxiety, tension, and heartbreak – which make good fiction, though I wouldn't want to live them again!
But in general, I agree with some posters that it has to do with who's reading the books. Mainly girls reading the YA, so mainly female-written and female-centric books are written. But. . . which came first? Hm. . . .
A. M. Perkins says
It could be any one of the reasons mentioned above (personally, I think Philip Heckman hit it closest), but there could be something else at play: random chance and individual talents.
This all reminds me of something similar on the British quiz show QI: they discussed the local myth that women's pheromones attract fish. Apparently, it started because female fishermen (fisherwomen? fishers?) held the top fishing records in Britain.
Instead of saying "Hey, those ladies can really fish!" the men thought, "Wait, there are women that fish better than men? There must be a biological reason for it – why else would a woman be better than us at something?"
Annalise Green says
Honestly, I think that right now teenage boys are more likely to play videogames than read books, so females comprise the majority audience of the later YA books. I DON'T want to read any gendered reasons into that – I think a lot of it might be societal, for instance, because videogames market more to boys and YA books more to girls – but that does seem to be the pattern at the moment.
i was gonna say i felt confused, but actually i AM confused, but in a kinda of delightful way, and with an expectation that this conversation will probably get even more interesting over time 😉
i myself have only recently returned to fiction (since the early 80s) having been primarily focussed on poetry and painting, so my own work is tilted toward young seniors (YS ?) 😉
and i have NO opinion or observation of who writes what percentage-wise in this is-it-even-a-genre topic
i do like writing from an over six decades perspective though, 'cause i can, as needed/wished include all the ages before me –
and that's something i do find kinda fun to be able to do, and seem to be getting equally good response from males and females
if it's true one returns, in old(er) age, to a child-like semblance of our innocence, maybe there's some hope there, in aging, i hadn't anticipated 😉
best wishes everyone!
I think females have been inspired by JK Rowling and then Stephanie Meyer, who made YA look glitzy and fun. Rowling & Meyer became really rich, really fast. As we have Suzanne Collins also doing really well, we can expect even more female YA writers. People say women and girls read more than boys & men, but what are they reading most? Romance.
Now, you cannot drag women into the technology fields where they are needed (and where the money is). 99% would rather sit on the sofa & read romance, or write it. This is why women fail & hardly earn as much as men in the workforce in general. Too much time thinking about romance & Young adult Fiction.
^ Lol at this person above me.
Yes, why DO women dominate YA? That is, assuming they do in the first place. StackedBooks has recently published a post debunking the perception that women dominate YA. It's supported stats based on the best-seller lists for YA fiction from the New York Times.
I think women just seem to 'dominate' because the books that have gathered such international popularity – enough to merit film treatments – happened to be written by women. Another reason could be because we're used to not seeing a whole lot of participation by female writers (that are noticed anyway) in other genres. So suddenly, when the lists seem to contain a lot of female names, they're 'dominating' when that may not really be the case.
Women writers have romance and now moving into YA… I don't have a problem with this except it creates a unfair playing field. When almost from what i understand 60% of YA is Romance theme based (Contemporary for one)with a female pov.
Now with that being said can any one list YA written by women that features a male pov? (If you can't that's okay)
What i'm saying is YA is dominated by Women not Men so it begs the question is YA Gender bias?