Industries in Depth

Older Americans are less likely to read than younger people

A woman reads a book at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pasadena, California November 26, 2013. Barnes & Noble Inc, the largest U.S. bookstore chain, on Tuesday reported a higher than expected quarterly profit as it cut store workers' hours scaled back its money losing Nook business, helping it offset sharp sales declines.     REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)

This new study reveals the statistics of book readers in America. Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Andrew Perrin
Research Assistant, Pew Research Center
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About a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. Who are these non-book readers?

Several demographic traits correlate with non-book reading, Pew Research Center surveys have found. For instance, adults with a high school degree or less are about five times as likely as college graduates (37% vs. 7%) to report not reading books in any format in the past year. Adults with lower levels of educational attainment are also among the least likely to own smartphones, even as e-book reading on these devices has increased substantially since 2011. (College-educated adults are more likely to own these devices and use them to read e-books.)

Who hasn't read a book in the past 12 months? Image: Pew Research Center

Adults with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less are about three times as likely as the most affluent adults to be non-book readers (36% vs. 13%). Hispanic adults are about twice as likely as whites (38% vs. 20%) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months. But there are differences between Hispanics born inside and outside the U.S.: Roughly half (51%) of foreign-born Hispanics report not having read a book, compared with 22% of Hispanics born in the U.S.

Older Americans are a bit more likely than their younger counterparts not to have read a book. Some 28% of adults aged 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 20% of adults under 50. There are modest differences when looking at gender and whether people live in urban, suburban or rural areas.

Have you read?

The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months has bounced around a bit since 2011, when Pew Research Center first began conducting surveys about book-reading habits. That year, 19% of adults reported not reading any books. The share of non-book readers hit a high point of 27% in 2015.

The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. In a 2016 survey, we found that Hispanics, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000 and those who have a high school diploma or did not graduate from high school are the most likely to report they have never been to a public library.

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