Humanities Indicators
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Book Reading Behavior
(Updated July 2019)

The National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts provides a rich set of data about the place of books in Americans’ lives, demonstrating how humanistic skills and interest extend beyond the formal education system.

Findings and Trends

  • The percentage of Americans adults who read at least one book of fiction or nonfiction in the previous 12 months (outside of work or school requirements) fell to the lowest level on record in 2017 (Indicator V-3a). In 1992, 61% of Americans had read a book for pleasure during the previous year, but by 2017 less than 53% had done so.
  • From 1992 to 2017, the greatest decline in book-reading rates (of between 12 and 14 percentage points, depending on the age group) occurred among adults under the age of 55. For Americans age 55 or older, book-reading rates either increased or declined by a much smaller amount.[1]
  • In 2012, the U.S. book-reading rate among 25-to-64-year-olds (55%) was comparable to the rates in Poland and Lithuania but substantially lower than the rates in Austria, Finland, Germany, and Luxembourg (which were all above 72%; Indicator V-3b).[2]
  • In spite of the overall decline in the percentage of American adults reading at least one book each year, their participation in book clubs and reading groups increased (Indicator V-3h). In 2017, approximately 5% of Americans engaged with books in this way, up from 3.5% in 2012. Women were more likely to participate than were men, and the higher a person’s education level, the more likely he or she was to have been part of such a group (Indicator V-3i).
V-3a: Percentage of Americans 18 Years or Older Who Read at Least One Book Other Than for Work or School in the Previous 12 Months, by Age, 1992–2017
Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
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V-3b: International Comparison of Percentage of Adult Population Having Read at Least One Book in the Previous 12 Months, 2011/2012*

* “Adults” include people ages 25–64. Books read were for pleasure, not for work or school.

Source: European nations: Eurostat Adult Education Survey (data provided upon request). United States: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

Related Indicators
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V-3h: Percentage of Americans 18 Years or Older Participating in a Book Club or Reading Group, by Gender, 2012–2017
Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
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V-3i: Percentage of Americans 18 Years or Older Participating in a Book Club or Reading Group, by Education Level, 2017
Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Data analyzed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
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Endnotes

[1] The term “reading rate” used in this topic refers to the share of people who read at least one book in the previous year for pleasure (rather than for work or school).
[2] Data were not collected in 2011/2012 for all European Union countries. Thus, the U.S. adult book-reading rate cannot be compared to those of France, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom, among others.