© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Fewer and fewer Americans are reading for pleasure. That's the conclusion of a study released today by the National Endowment for the Arts. It tracks a decline among Americans of all ages. Here are a couple of the most striking statistics. On average, Americans spend two hours a day watching television and seven minutes reading. And only one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers.

The study argues that this decline has serious consequences for the nation, as NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY: The NEA report, "To Read or Not to Read," is a follow-up to a 2004 study which first focused attention on the decline in reading among Americans. But that study looked at the reading habits of adults and was criticized for focusing only on literature, fiction, poetry and drama. The new report analyzes more than 40 studies on the reading habits of Americans of all ages and encompasses a broader range of reading from newspapers and magazines to content on the Internet.

Dana Gioia is the chairman of the NEA.

Mr. DANA GIOIA (Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts): And the thing that was astonishing is that taking all of these data from all of these different sources, the numbers were all telling the same story.

NEARY: That story, says Gioia, is that reading for pleasure begins to decline around middle school and continues through high school and young adulthood.

Mr. GIOIA: As they read less, they read less well. And when they read less well, this has very serious consequences, not just to their academic performance, but to their economic performance and ultimately to their ability to connect with a civic life and political life.

NEARY: The number of technological distractions tempting kids these days is one obvious reason for the decline in reading. And some argue there is a new kind of literacy, which is not limited to books. But Gioia doesn't buy that argument.

Mr. GIOIA: First of all, if you take the kids who read and the kids who don't read, they do exactly the same things. You know, these kids that read are doing everything in the electronic culture that the kids who don't read except they're also reading. And the second thing is that, you know, we test these people. And the kids that read for pleasure do overwhelmingly better than the kids that don't.

NEARY: And that's success, says Gioia, continues through life. He cites two statistics to make his point. Fifty-five percent of people who read below the basic level are unemployed. And only three percent of those in prison can read at a proficient level. And, says Gioia, the deciding factor in who reads and who doesn't is not socioeconomic status. It's how many books can be found in a family's home.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.