The prevalence of reading difficulties is typically higher in males than females in both referred and research-identified samples, and the ratio of males to females is greater in more affected samples. To explore possible gender differences in reading performance, we analysed data from 1133 twin pairs in which at least one member of each pair had a school history of reading problems and from 684 twin pairs from a comparison sample with no reading difficulties. Although the difference between the average scores of males and females in these two samples was very small, the variance of reading performance was significantly greater for males in both groups. We suggest that a greater variance of reading performance measures in males may account at least in part for their higher prevalence of reading difficulties as well as for the higher gender ratios that are observed in more severely impaired samples. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.