Humanities Indicators
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Time Spent Reading
(Updated September 2016)

Reading is a foundational activity for the humanities. Via its American Time Use Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on the amount of time Americans age 15 and older spend reading for personal interest. The Bureau’s findings reveal that the average time spent reading varies depending on age and education level, but across almost every demographic category reading time has waned in recent years.

Findings and Trends

  • From 2005 to 2015, the average amount of time Americans spent reading for personal interest on weekend days and holidays fell by six minutes to 21 minutes per day (Indicator V-16a). (On work days, Americans spent an average of two fewer minutes reading per day.) In comparison, Americans spent an average of three hours and 17 minutes each day on weekends and holidays watching television, and 30 minutes playing games and using computers for leisure. The time spent on each of the latter activities had increased over the previous 10 years.
  • Higher levels of education are associated with more time spent reading for personal interest (Indicator V-16b). Throughout the 2005–2015 period, the average time American adults with a college degree spent reading was at least 2.5 times as great as for those who had not earned a high school diploma—and four times as great in 2015 (32 minutes compared to eight). The averages for Americans with only a high school degree and with some college or an associate’s degree fell roughly halfway between the two poles.
  • The average time American adults spent reading for personal interest has declined at every education level. The largest absolute decline occurred among those with college degrees, with the average falling from 45 minutes per day on weekends and holidays in 2005 to 30 minutes in 2014. (The average time rebounded somewhat in 2015.) The largest proportional decline occurred among Americans with less than a high school education, where the average time spent reading fell 43%, from 14 minutes per day to eight.
  • Over the 2006–2015 time period, older Americans consistently spent the most time reading for personal interest. For example, in 2015, Americans 75 and older spent an average of 65 minutes per weekend day reading (Indicator V-16c). In comparison, the four youngest age cohorts, those composed of Americans age 15 to 44, spent an average of seven to 12 minutes reading. The average time spent reading declined in every age cohort except the youngest (15-to-19-year-olds) from 2006 to 2015.[1]
V-16a: Average Number of Minutes per Weekend Day or Holiday Spent Engaged in Selected Leisure Activities by Americans Age 15 Years and Older, 2005–2015
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Data collected by U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Data Retrieval: American Time Use Survey,” http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11b.htm, accessed 7/14/2016).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/table_indV-16a.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16a.ppt../cmsData/pdf/V-16a.pdf
V-16b: Average Number of Minutes per Weekend Day or Holiday Spent Reading for Personal Interest, Americans Age 15 Years and Older, by Educational Attainment, 2005–2015
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Data collected by U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Data Retrieval: American Time Use Survey,” http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11b.htm, accessed 7/14/2016).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/table_indV-16b.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16b.ppt../cmsData/pdf/V-16b.pdf
V-16c: Average Number of Minutes per Weekend Day or Holiday Spent Reading for Personal Interest, by Age, 2005–2015
Source: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). Data collected by U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Data Retrieval: American Time Use Survey,” http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/tustab11b.htm, accessed 7/14/2016).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/table_indV-16c.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-16c.ppt../cmsData/pdf/V-16c.pdf

Endnotes

[1] Data for the year 2005 are not available for all age groups.