reading for personal interest: trends since 2003

I’m concerned about the state of reading, because I believe (and have seen evidence) that reading takes us out of our own minds into other people’s and enables us to make deep and creative connections. I feel myself growing less able to concentrate–although I did finally read Romola last week!–and I observe that my talented undergraduates are reading less than their predecessors did. I blame the distracting media environment rather than any generational fault.

Here are some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The line for ages 15 and older shows that adults are spending less time reading “for personal interest” than they were in 2003, down by about 28 percent. The BLS does not provide data on children. However, people between the ages of 20 and 24 (the classic college years) have seen a small increase in time spent reading for personal interest, albeit from a low baseline. The biggest decline is among those between 45 and 54, who read for half as long as they did in 2003, or about 10 minutes/day.

More education correlates with more reading, but all educational groups read less. Still, the decline for the most educated (those with graduate educations) is 28%, whereas the decline for people without high school diplomas is 87%. That group now reads for an average of 2.4 minutes a day, down from a substantial 18 minutes a day in 2003.

See also are we forgetting how to read?; a way forward for high culture; “The world wants the humanities”

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.