Who reads what?

Out of the blue, David asked me today about what percent of adults actually read books for pleasure.  I just said that I know women read more than men– especially non-fiction– and that I really hoped it was over 50% and that we could probably find some good data on-line.  And, again, the internet comes through with flying colors!

As for me, right on both counts, but definitely interesting to see the data.  First the LA Times has a nice summary of a recent National Endowment of the Arts survey:

Fifty-seven percent of American adults read one or more books not required for work or school in 2012 — that’s 128 million readers.

Some other interesting findings: More women (64%) read than men (45%). The biggest readers are older adults; 65- to 74-year-olds have the highest rate of reading of any age group, with 61% reading at least one book in 2012…

The worst news is for poets: People reading poetry for pleasure has plunged in the last decade, dropping by 45%. Among adults who read books for pleasure, less than 7% now say they read poetry.

Literature overall — from which the NEA excludes nonfiction — has suffered a decline. Adults who read novels, poetry, short fiction and plays have dropped in every age group since 2008.

I got a big kick out of this line in the article:

In its report, the NEA has a few bar graphs demonstrating its findings, but nothing particularly special. On Sept. 30, it will launch an infographic grants initiative at challenge.gov. The NEA will award more than $20,000 to “create interactive visualization tools” that will help make the arts data results “more accessible to the public.”

Love that.  Apparently these lovers of books don’t have a soul among them who can even make a decent chart.  Fortunately, Pew does.  And their 2012 survey brings the charts.  I think this one is the most interesting:

How often people read for different purposes

I’m encouraged that three quarters of Americans are reading for pleasure at least a few times a month.  The disheartening fact is the number of Americans who don’t read at all is growing:

Book reading trends over time

And finally, here’s some interesting demographic breakdowns:

How many books Americans read

Anyway, interesting stuff.  And for the record, I just finished Eleanor and Parkwhich I really, really liked.  I’m definitely in the minority of men in reading novels.  Also, looks like I read approximately 22 books in the past year.  Would’ve been more, but I spent a lot of time on Spillover and Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow plus I’m not giving myself credit for the half of The Better Angels of our Nature I read.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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