Reading on the Rise – NEA Study

Takeaway: This is a very good time to be a reader.

The National Endowment for the Arts has been studying how Americans read since 1982.  Over that time there have been five different studies looking at how American read, what they read and how much they read.  The most recent study Reading on the Rise, was completed in 2009.

After reading Upside a couple weeks ago, I decided that I am going to be more vocal when people make public pronouncements about how bad the world is that do not happen to be true.

Right before Thanksgiving there was a blog discussion on Books and Culture’s website about Tony Reinke’s book Lit! (my review).  I think that Reinke’s books is decent, but that it does not really accomplish what it says it wants to to (move non-readers to readers).  It is decent about moving marginal and aspirational readers to better readers.  But in the midst of the discussion there was a question, “How then should we go about encouraging readers of books in a post-literate culture?”

I disagreed with the whole concept of the question.  I am all for encouraging readers, but I do not believe we are in a post-literate culture.  Both in the US and World-wide we have the highest literacy rates in history.  There are more full length books being published now than ever in history (surpassing 1 million English language books published a year right now.)  The third point is that I knew that there was a recent study that said that reading (of books) was up in all age, education, and racial groups.

I remembered reading about this study so I looked it up, downloaded the 16 pages and read through them.  I thought it was worth sharing here.  (Since I don’t have another book review to share today.)  The summary is that reading is up.  Over the previous four studies, reading went down each study.  This study reading is up across the board.

There are some interesting facts.  There are approximately equal groups in the US of readers and non-readers.  In 2009 15 percent of the US adults read literature online (not on readers, but actually online).  What I find most encouraging about the study is that those that you might consider least likely to read had the highest gains in reading.  Young adults (18 to 24) had the highest gains of any age group (so maybe the No Child Left Behind had some effect–or more likely this is the Harry Potter generation and that had an effect).

Hispanic reading is up 20 percent, African American reading is up 15 percent and White reading is up 8 percent.

The internet is not simply a competitor with reading offline.  The report said that 84 percent of adults that reported regularly reading internet articles or blogs also regularly read long form fiction, plays or poetry.

The only real negative in the study was that poetry continues to decline in popularity.

You can read the whole study (PDF) here.


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