A study on Americans' reading habits conducted by WordsRated.com set out to understand what the reading habits of adults actually are. The study surveyed 2,003 American adults to better understand the reading habits of Americans in 2022.
WordsRated, a non-commercial research organization, wanted to rectictify the shortcomings of the many frequently referenced, industry-leading reports that are inflated due to defining having "read a book" to include just reading part of a book and listening to audiobooks.
The frequently referenced statistics from these reports provide inflated estimates on reading habits nationally due to two primary issues:
- The act of reading is defined to include listening to audiobooks - which it is objectively not.
- The unit of measurement of reading a book is defined to include just reading some or parts of a book and is not exclusive to reading a full book.
As you wouldn’t qualify running a few miles as being equal to running a marathon, you wouldn’t count reading part of a book as reading a full book.
The findings below provide deeper insights into the reality of how many of us read and to what extent.
Key study findings:
- More than half of adults (51.57%) haven't read a full book in over a year
- 22.01% of adults haven’t read a book in over 3 years, while 10.83% haven’t read a book in more than 10 years
- 28.76% of people never finish a book they start reading, but those that finish one book are 29.02x more likely to read at least one more
- The 1-book rule applies - finishing one book is all it takes to start a reading habit
- Fewer young people are reading and read less than half the number of books of older generations
- Americans only read an average of 5.38 books per year.
Half of adults have NOT read a book in over a year (51.57%)
Only 48.43% of adults have read a full print or ebook in the past 12 months - less than half of those that responded.
Nearly a quarter of adults have not read a book in 1-2 years. Another 11.18% haven’t read a book in 3-5 years.
The most staggering number is that more than a tenth of adults hasn’t read at least one full book in the past 10 years (10.83%).
1-Book Rule - Only takes one book to start a reading habit
When we analyzed how many books readers completed in the past twelve months, we found that only 1.55% of adults finished reading only one book in the past 12 months and that reading just one book was the least likely group to fall in.
In fact, you are 6.98x more likely to have not read a book in the past 10 years, than you are to have read just 1 in the past 12 months.
In comparison to reading just one full book, you are:
- 33.27x more likely to never finish a book
- 29.02x more likely to read 2 or more books
It seems that developing a growing reading habit is met with a 1-book rule, where those that finish at least one book, go on to read more.
Fewer younger people read & read 1⁄2 as much as older generations
Fewer younger people reported having read at least one book in the past 12 months in comparison to the older generations.
When we analyze the average number of books finished per year, we found the overall average was 5.38 books per adult.
Baby Boomers and Gen X are the only two generations to finish an above-average number of books, while Millenials and Gen Z finished below.
In fact, Baby Boomers read more than 2x the number of books per year than the Millenial and Gen Z generations.
The higher average number of books read for older generations, especially Baby Boomers is due to:
- Nearly 1.5x more of older generations read at least one book per year than younger generations
- 2.4x more of older generations read 11+ books per year than the younger generations
The percentage of avid readers finishing 11+ books per year increase with each generation. For example, there are 4x as many Baby Boomers reading 11+ books per year Gen Z.
The number of people in each generation that never read a book remains relatively similar, what does change with time is the number of people who start but never finish a book.
Nearly a third of millennials try to start reading but simply never finish - more than double the 16.67% of Baby Boomers who start but never finish as well.
Although more people read in the older generations, the number of people who haven’t read in over a decade continues to increase.
Data seems to indicate that those who don’t start their reading habit in their younger generations are more likely to never begin one.
That’s because the percentage of non-readers decreases with age, in combination with more non-readers going 10+ years since reading a book.
The data in this survey shows that more than half of America are not readers and the estimates for how many people and books are read per year are severely inflated.
With more than 50% of American adults having not read a book in the past 12 months, fewer younger people reading books, and the younger people that do read reading significantly less than the older generations, we are approaching what could be a crisis in the book industry.
The silver lining in the data is that all it appears to take is 1 book. If we can convince people to pick up and read one book, they are significantly more likely to catch the reading bug and carry on from there.