Reading on the Rise for Adults

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

According to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), for the first time in history, American adults are reading more literature. The study, called “Reading on the Rise” documents a convincing increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages 18 to 24. This growth reverses more than two decades of downward trends cited in previous NEA surveys.

The overall rate at which adults read literature, novels and short stories, plays, or poems, rose by seven percent. Young adults showed the most impressive increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18 to 24 year-olds have had the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent) as well.

Reading rates among Hispanic Americans have improved at the sharpest rate---by 20 percent; among African Americans, rates have increased by 15 percent and among Whites, at a mere eight percent rate of increase. Also, for the first time in the survey’s history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. In fact, literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.

Fiction, that is novels and short stories, accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers. Nearly 15 percent of all US adults read literature online in 2008 and a slight majority of American adults now reads literature or books in any format.

“This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own ‘Big Read’, are working,” said NEA’s Chairman Dana Gioia (no relation to our author). The Big Read program has an active presence in every state, and reaches almost 500 communities with over 21,000 organizational partners. It is only one example of the countless efforts by teachers, parents, and others to encourage young people to read.

In light of the expanding variety of distractions in the form of music, movies, video games, and alternate universes, these results are surprising. We expect this reading trend to continue to increase, in a small way supporting the US in its drive for competitiveness.