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New Study: Who’s NOT Reading Books in America? (The Answer May Surprise You)

by Andrew Perrin

About a quarter of American adults (26 percent) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. So who, exactly, are these non-book readers?

Older Americans are a bit more likely than their younger counterparts not to have read a book. Some 29 percent of adults ages 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 23 percent of adults under 50.

Older Americans are a bit more likely than their younger counterparts not to have read a book. Some 29 percent of adults ages 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 23 percent of adults under 50.

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 three times as likely as college graduates (40 percent vs. 13 percent) to report not reading books in any format in the past year. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey shows that these less-educated adults are also the least likely to own smartphones or tablets, two devices that have seen asubstantial increase in usage for reading e-books since 2011. (College-educated adults are more likely to own these devices and use them to read e-books.)

Adults with an annual household income of less than $30,000 are about twice as likely as the most affluent adults to be non-book readers (33 percent vs. 17 percent). Hispanic adults are also about twice as likely as whites (40 percent vs. 23 percent) to report not having read a book in the past 12 months.

Older Americans are a bit more likely than their younger counterparts not to have read a book. Some 29 percent of adults ages 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 23 percent of adults under 50. In addition, men are less likely than women to have read a book, as are adults in rural areas compared with those in urban areas. 

The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months is largely unchanged since 2012, but is slightly higher than in 2011, when the Center first began conducting surveys of book-reading habits. That year, 19 percent of adults reported not reading any books.

Given the share that hasn’t read a book in the past year, it’s not surprising that 19 percent of U.S. adults also say they have not visited a library or a bookmobile in the past year. The same demographic traits that characterize non-book readers also often apply to those who have never been to a library. For example, men, Hispanics, older adults, those living in households earning less than $30,000 and those who have no more than 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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