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Americans are reading fewer books: poll

Stack of books, blurry background

Americans said they read an average of a little more than one book a month in the past year, a drop from the number they consumed just five years earlier, a new poll found.

However, the survey, conducted by Gallup, found little decline in the overall number of Americans who generally say they read books.

Just 17 percent of Americans said they did not read a book last year, virtually unchanged from the last several times Gallup asked the question in 2016 and 2005.

But fewer Americans are chewing through lots of books in a given year.

The share of Americans who said they read more than 10 books over the course of the previous 12 months dropped from about a third of Americans (34 percent) in 2016 to just more than a quarter (27 percent) in 2021.

The average American consumed 12.6 books last year, down from 15.6 in 2016 and 14.2 in 2005. At peak consumption, in 1999, the average American reported getting through 18.5 books.

The Gallup poll found the steepest decline among college graduates, who averaged more than 21 books a year in 2016 and just 14.6 books last year. Women tend to read more books than do men, 15.7 last year versus 9.5, while older Americans over the age of 55 read more than those in middle age.

“Reading appears to be in decline as a favorite way for Americans to spend their free time,” Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones wrote in an analysis of the finding.

The pandemic, when millions were locked in their homes without their regular outside activities, did little to spur a readership boom.

In 2020, Gallup found just 6 percent of Americans named reading as their favorite way to spend an evening, the first time since Gallup started asking in 1960 that fewer than 10 percent of Americans chose reading as a favorite activity.

Even as Americans finish fewer books, sales have boomed during the pandemic, suggesting the average nightstand is moaning under the weight of unread tomes.

Americans purchased more than 825 million printed books in 2021, up nearly 9 percent from 2020 and well over the 693 million sold in 2019, according to NPD BookScan, an industry analyst.

Adult nonfiction works still sell best, according to the data; 322 million nonfiction units were sold last year, a 4 percent increase over the year before. But Americans apparently turned more to escapism, as both adult and young adult fiction posted the highest gains, up 25 percent and 31 percent, respectively.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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