How We Read Now: 10 Facts from the National Endowment for the Arts Report

Phew! The National Endowment for the Arts reports that more than half of all Americans are still reading—and even talking about books. Ten other facts about how we read today.

09.26.13 10:25 PM ET

For those who fear that Americans are abandoning reading, the results of The National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), should be encouraging. Americans are reading just as much as they did four years ago, despite the new frontiers of digital media. More than half of all Americans can still find time to read a book, and some even still talk about books with their friends. It’s mostly good news from the NEA—unless you’re a poet.

1.    54.5 = The percentage of Americans that read a book of any type not for school or work. This number has held steady since 2002. That reading, however, consists of less literature and more non-fiction than in past years.

2.    46.9 = The percentage of adults that read at least one novel, short story, play or book of poetry in the past year. This is a marked decline from the numbers reported in the 2008 survey, when a little more than half of Americans reported having read a work of literature. The drop-off is even steeper over the past 30 years: in 1982 the number was 56.4 percent.

3.    36.9 = The percentage of men that read literature, down five points from 2008. American women, on the other hand, are reading literature at a rate of more than 56 percent.

4.    6.7 = The percentage of Americans that have read a book of poetry in the past year, cut almost in half from 2002’s number. This 45-percent decrease was the largest of any genre; novels remained constant over the past decade, and reading plays decreased by 19 percent.

5.    51.8 = The percentage of young people reading. Americans age 18-24 are reading more than in 2008.

6.    53.2 = The percentage of their parents, the 45-54 age range, that are reading. The gap between these two age groups is closing. Young people are reading more, but middle-aged Americans are reading less.

7.    61.1 = The percentage of Americans age 65-74 that read. This is the most literate demographic of Americans, and the only one where more than half of the population read at least one work of literature in 2012.

8.    3.6 = The surprisingly high percentage of Americans that are in a book club or reading group.

9.    71 = The percentage of Americans that consume art via electronic media.  In 2008, the NEA did not even list “electronic consumption” as an option.

10.    5.9 = The percentage of Americans that do creative writing. Maybe they’re all still proofreading, because only 2.9 percent reported sharing their writing in any way.