Are Americans losing interest in reading books?

For several years, Scandinavians have been world champions in reading. However, an opposite phenomenon seems to be happening in the United States. Americans are reading fewer and fewer books every year, according to the Gallup Institute. And this is a statistic observed in several social classes.

Why don’t we read anymore? The American journalist Caleb Crain asked himself this question for the New Yorker in 2007. Fourteen years later, the Gallup Institute provides some answers. It turns out that Americans read an average of 12.6 books in 2021. That’s three books less than in 2016.

While reading is declining in the United States, the percentage of American adults who do not engage in this activity is stable. Seventeen percent said they had not read any books last year, compared to 18% in 2016. Only a quarter of respondents remain passionate about literature and said they had read more than ten books in the year.

This growing disinterest in reading is particularly striking among demographic groups that are often considered bibliophiles. Young graduates are leading the way. They read, on average, seven fewer books last year than between 2002 and 2016.

Is reading as a hobby running out of steam?

The Gallup Institute has found the same phenomenon among American women. In the past, they read twice as many books as their male counterparts. This gap has now narrowed. They delved into 16 books in 2021, up from 19 between 2002 and 2016. American men, on the other hand, are much more consistent with their reading habits.

Another demographic that is turning away from literature is adults over the age of 55. While it is often said that they are more likely to choose a good book than younger people, this is not necessarily the case these days. They devoured, on average, 12 pounds in 2021, one less than Americans aged 18 to 34.

Is the decline in reading linked to the constraints imposed by the pandemic? The Gallup Institute is not sure. “It is not clear from these data whether the decline in book readership is occurring due to a lack of interest in books, a lack of time to read books, or perhaps COVID-19-related disruptions in lifestyle activities or access to books”, his website states.

Yet Americans seem to have given up reading long before the health crisis began. Gallup asked them in 2020 what they thought an ideal evening looked like. For a third of respondents, it is above all a question of spending time at home with their family. Only 6% of respondents mentioned reading… Hopefully the return of book clubs and #Bookstagram will fix it.

Caroline Drzewinsky

About Marcia G. Hussain

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