Who’s reading in America and who isn’t?

Eighty-one million Americans did not read a book last year.  Not a single book.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that nearly 244 million Americans did read at least one book last year.

According to the Pew Research Center, younger adults (18-49) are more likely to have read a book than older people (80 percent vs. 72 percent) and people earning more than $75,000 annually are more likely to have read a book than those earning $30,000 or less (87 percent vs. 64 percent).

College-educated people are more than five times more likely to have read a book than people with a high school education or less (93 percent vs. 63 percent).  Women read books more than men, but only slightly (78 percent vs. 75 percent), and white are marginally more likely to read books than African-Americans (80 percent vs. 76 percent).  Among ethnic groups, Hispanics are less likely to have read a book last year (62 percent), and the fact that some Hispanics don’t speak English, the language of most books published in America, may account for that gap.

Among the 81 million Americans who haven’t read a book last year are 32 million people who can’t read.  It’s shocking that ten percent of the population is illiterate.  Literacy rates are tied to poverty, drug use, and a higher crime rate, so the late Barbara Bush’s focus on literacy when she was First Lady was an important contribution to our country.

Higher book readership and higher literacy rates are a function of education.  According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is the sixth most-educated country in the world.  The top five, in order, are Canada, Japan, Israel, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

For more on book reading in our country, see “Who Doesn’t Read Books in America?” by Andrew Perrin at www.pewresearch.org.


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Terry Bacon

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