Tuesday, April 10, 2012

As Access to Books Gets Easier Percentage of American Adults Reading Books Declines

In 1978 92% of American adults said they had read a book during the previous 12 months. In 2011 that number had declined to 81% of Americans. The 2011 survey includes 16 and 17 years olds, (who in 2011 had a higher reading percentage than all other age groups, e.g. 86% vs. the next highest 82% for 18 to 29 year olds) and the 1978 survey only questioned those 18 years old and up. So the decline in readers from 1978 is a bit more pronounced than the following chart indicates.

Who were the non-readers?
"A fifth of Americans (18%)[*] said they had not read a book in the past year. This group is more likely to be: male than female (23% vs. 14%), Hispanic than white or black (28% vs. 17% and 16%), age 65 or older (27%), lacking a high school diploma (34%), living in households earning less than $30,000 (26%), unemployed (22%), and residents of rural areas 25%. Those who did not read a book last year also tended not to be technology users."
The number of American adults who read 50 or more books a year has also been halved from more than from 1/10th (13%) in 1978 to 1/20th (5%) in 2011. This drop has occurred even though e-book and cell phone readers make carrying and reading books ever easier.

What gives readers joy in reading? Pew found:
26% of those who had read a book in the past 12 months said that what they enjoyed most was learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering information.
15% cited the pleasures of escaping reality, becoming immersed in another world, and the enjoyment they got from using their imaginations.
12% said they liked the entertainment value of reading, the drama of good stories, the suspense of watching a good plot unfold.
12% said they enjoyed relaxing while reading and having quiet time.
6% liked the variety of topics they could access via reading and how they could find books that particularly interested them.
4% said they enjoy finding spiritual enrichment through reading and expanding their worldview.
3% said they like being mentally challenged by books.
2% cited the physical properties of books – their feel and smell – as a primary pleasure.
*I've contacted Pew on the discrepancy between their text number of 18% and their chart number of 19% who have not read a book in the previous 12 months.


MAX Redline said...

Most likely, 16-17 year-olds are assigned to read a book as part of high school curriculum. It would also be interesting to see if the 2011 includes eReaders such as Kindle or is confined to paperback/hardcover "dead tree" material.

On the other hand, in 1978 there were no x-boxes, dvd players, nor big-screen, high-definition tv units. Even vcrs cost upwards of $700 at the time.

T. D. said...

The 2011 survey does include e-book and audio book readers as well as print. E-book is expanding rapidly but still a big minority in terms of books read.

In 2011 on any given day 84% (down from 95% in 2010) of readers read print versions, 15% e-books (up from 4% in 2010), and 4% audio (same in 2010). There's a 3% surplus. I take it 3% read two kinds of books.

One of the stats I thought was interesting was that whites (17%) are slightly more likely than blacks (16%) to be non-readers. If asians were put in with whites (since they don't have a category of their own), the disparity might be even more pronounced for white non-readers.

You're right there are a lot more game opportunities now to go along with the increased book reading opportunities. It may be a wash.

Thanks for the food for thought.