New Survey Findings From Gallup: “Americans Reading Fewer Books Than in Past”
Americans say they read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, a smaller number than Gallup has measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990. U.S. adults are reading roughly two or three fewer books per year than they did between 2001 and 2016.
The decline in book reading is mostly a function of how many books readers are reading, as opposed to fewer Americans reading any books. The 17% of U.S. adults who say they did not read any books in the past year is similar to the 16% to 18% measured in 2002 to 2016 surveys, though it is higher than in the 1999 to 2001 polls.
The drop is fueled by a decline in the percentage of Americans reading more than 10 books in the past year. Currently, 27% report that they read more than 10 books, down eight percentage points since 2016 and lower than every prior measure by at least four points.
Line graph. Trend in number of books Americans say they read in the past year. In 2021, 17% of U.S. adults said they read no books in the past year, about the same percentage as in the prior reading in 2016 and similar to most readings since 1990. At the same time, there was a decline in the number reading more than 10 books, from 35% in 2016 to 27% in 2021. That decrease was offset by an increase in the percentage reading 1 to 5 books, from 34% to 40%. The percentage reading six to 10 books was steady at 15%.
The reasons for the decline in book reading are unclear, with Americans perhaps finding other ways to entertain themselves. It is uncertain whether concerns about COVID or COVID-related restrictions are leading to a decline in visits to libraries or bookstores, similar to the documented declines in air travel and movie theater attendance Gallup found in the same poll. However, unlike those activities, for reading, Americans can order books or download electronic books or audiobooks without leaving their homes.
Americans in most major subgroups are reading fewer books now than in the past. This is based on a comparison of the 2021 results to an average of those from the three polls conducted between 2002 and 2016. During those years, Americans read an average of 15.2 books a year.
The decline is greater among subgroups that tended to be more avid readers, particularly college graduates but also women and older Americans. College graduates read an average of about six fewer books in 2021 than they did between 2002 and 2016, 14.6 versus 21.1.
In the past, women read close to twice as many books as men did, but the gap has narrowed as the average U.S. woman read 15.7 books last year, compared with 19.3 between 2002 and 2016. Over the same period, men’s readership declined by barely one book, to 9.5.
Older adults traditionally read a lot more than younger adults did, but that difference has vanished, with Americans aged 55 and older dropping from an average of 16.7 books read a year to 12, while there has been little change in the average number read by those younger than 55.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.