Humanities Indicators
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Youth Reading for Fun
(Updated January 2016)

Youth reading for pleasure is associated with a variety of positive social, emotional, and educational outcomes.[1] Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal that while the reading habits of nine-year-olds are similar to what they were in the mid-1980s, interest in reading has waned among adolescents.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2012, 53% of nine-year-olds reported reading almost every day for fun, the same share as in 1984 (Indicator V-2a). This share represents a five percentage point recovery from 2008 (the lowest value on record) but remains below the high point of 58%, reached in 1994.
  • Throughout the 1984–2012 time period teenagers were less likely than their elementary-school counterparts to read almost every day for pleasure. In 2012, only 27% of 13-year-olds and 19% of 17-year-olds reported that they read almost every day.
  • The share of adolescents who reported reading almost every day shrank from 1984 to 2012, with a drop of eight percentage points among 13-year-olds and an even more pronounced decline of 12 percentage points for 17-year-olds.
  • In 1984, the share of teens reporting never or hardly ever reading was not statistically significantly different than among nine-year-olds,[2] but by 2012 the disparity was much greater, due to substantial growth in the share of adolescents who rarely read. The share of nine-year-olds who reported never or hardly ever reading expanded slightly, from 9% to 11% over the time period, but the 13-year-old share grew from 8% to 22%, and the 17-year-old share tripled (from 9% to 27%).
V-2a: Share of Children Who Read for Fun, by Age, 1984–2012*

* Not every interyear difference is statistically significant. See the supporting table for details.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 221.30,, accessed 11/15/2015.

About this DataRelated Indicators


[1] For a recent overview of the research literature, see BOP Consulting, Literature Review: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment (London: BOP Consulting, 2015).
[2] Please see the supporting table for information as to which year-to-year changes were found to be statistically significant. As the National Center for Education Statistics explains:

“Statistical tests are conducted to determine whether the changes or differences between two result numbers are statistically significant. The term ‘significant’ does not imply a judgment about the absolute magnitude or educational relevance of changes in student performance. Rather, it is used to indicate that the observed changes are not likely to be associated with sampling and measurement error, but are statistically dependable population differences. NAEP uses widely accepted statistical standards in analyzing data. For instance, this website discusses only findings that are statistically significant at the .05 level. However, some differences that are statistically significant appear small, particularly in recent assessment years, when the sample sizes have been larger.” (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, “NAEP Glossary of Terms,”, accessed 12/15/2015.)