Media, Entertainment and Sport

This chart shows how reading for pleasure is declining in the US

Girl sat on a sofa reading.

In 2019, the average American read for just 16 minutes per day. Image: Unsplash/Seven shooter

Katharina Buchholz
Data Journalist, Statista
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Media, Entertainment and Sport

  • The time an average American spends reading declined from 23 minutes per day in 2004, to just 16 minutes in 2019, according to new research.
  • People aged 75 year and older are the most likely to read for pleasure, reading for an average of 44 minutes per day.
  • COVID-19 saw book sales increase, but due to lockdown restrictions there is no current data to see if this increase translated into time spent reading.

As book sales have picked up in the U.S. in recent years, the time spent reading for pleasure and personal interest is nevertheless declining in the country. This is despite the fiction category leading the resurgence in the book market.

According to the Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American still spent 23 minutes per day reading in 2004. That declined to just 16 minutes in 2019, the latest year on record.

A lot of non-readers are skewing the average reading time downwards, however. Taking into account only Americans 15 years and older that do read for pleasure, average reading time per day in 2019 was 1 hour and 30 minutes, down from a peak of 1 hour and 35 minutes in 2012, but a step up from the 1 hour and 23 minutes recorded in 2004.

Book sales spiked in 2020 and 2021 as coronavirus lockdowns cloistered Americans at home, but the pandemic also disrupted the data collection of the BLS survey, which is why no comparable 2020 figures exist.

According to the data, those 75 years and older were among the most avid readers for pleasure, racking up 44 minutes of daily reading time in 2019. Employed Americans read far less, only spending an average of 9 minutes on a leisurely read during a workday.

Chart showing average time spent reading for pleasure per day by Americans 15 years and older.
Average time spent reading for pleasure per day by Americans 15 years and older. Image: Statista
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