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Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low

20 August 2019

From The Washington Post:

The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004, according to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2004, roughly 28 percent of Americans age 15 and older read for pleasure on a given day. Last year, the figure was about 19 percent.

That steep drop means that aggregate reading time among Americans has fallen, from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes per person per day in 2017.

Reading declines are higher among men. The share of men reading for pleasure on any given day fell from 25 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2017, a drop of nearly 40 percent. The decline among women was a more modest 29 percent, from 31 percent in 2003 to 22 percent in 2017.

The survey data shows declines in leisure reading across all age levels. Percentage-wise, the likelihood of reading declined the most among Americans ages 35 to 44, with smaller declines for both younger and older age groups.

. . . .

The findings on reading comport with some other recent data on American reading trends. Numbers from the National Endowment for the Arts show that the share of adults reading at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the prior year fell from 57 percent in 1982 to 43 percent in 2015.

Survey data from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have shown, meanwhile, that the share of adults not reading any book in a given year nearly tripled between 1978 and 2014.

It’s tempting to blame the decline on the recent proliferation of computers, cellphones, video games and the like. But the data don’t really bear that out. For one, the NEA data show that reading has been on the wane since at least the 1980s, well before the advent of Facebook and Fortnite.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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7 Comments to “Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low”

  1. Did they by chance give us their definition of ‘leisure reading’?

    Mine is reading anything I don’t have to (like TPV site. 😉 )

    In which case, did the supposed ‘non-readers’ reading twitter or facebook? If so their numbers are a bit off …

    • Their definition is “dead tree pulp shipped by the Manhattan Mafia that costs more than a month of netflix” .

      • Felix, Well, that explains it. When I saw the headline, my thoughts were, “How would you define leisure reading and how would you collect that data?” I cannot figure any way that does not include self-reporting, and such data are notoriously biased.

        But of course I was searching for truth, not ideological confirmation. My bad.

        It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

  2. They never ask me these questions. Wonder about the sample size. A thousand? A million?

  3. Looks like they have a narrow view of the material that qualifies as reading when read, and an even narrower view of leisure.

  4. They never ask me these questions. Wonder about the sample size. A thousand? A million?

    I wondered the same thing, so I followed the links in an attempt to determine who made up this survey. It turns out that it’s a selection from something called the “Current Population Survey” from the Census Bureau. The FAQ page, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/about/faqs.html, states that there’s a 90% response rate to their monthly surveys.

    However, the American Time Use Survey itself, https://www.bls.gov/tus/atususersguide.pdf, shows a response rate of under 50%. This response rate has declined from 57.8% in 2003 to 43% in 2018.

    More interesting to me (and where I pretty much stopped reading) was that this is a computer-assisted telephone survey. Now, if most people are like me, they don’t take these surveys. In fact, before I got rid of my land line a couple of months ago, I monitored incoming calls and only answered the ones coming from a friend or relative, leaving the rest to go to voicemail. Now that I no longer have a land line, I respond to fewer unsolicited calls on my cell phone.

    I think I’m a good representative of how most people handle phone calls now, so I think they’re missing something in this survey.

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