Americans reading more, survey says
NEW YORK - "Reading on the rise," declares a government study that reports a surprising and welcome increase in the number of adults who recently read a novel, short story, play, or other work of literature.
But the study also suggests that not every person who reads necessarily wants to.
According to "Reading on the Rise," being issued today by the National Endowment for the Arts, just over half of the people surveyed, 18 or older, read some kind of literature in 2008, up from 46.7 percent in 2002, when the number had dropped by seven percentage points over the previous decade. Dana Gioia, chairman of the organization, called the results "astonishing" and an "important new cultural trend."
According to the survey, which reflects online works and paper texts, reading rates increased for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, for men and women, for all levels of education, and across virtually all ages. Reading among 18- to 24-year-olds jumped from 42.8 in 2002 to 51.7 percent last year.
For much of the decade, Gioia and the NEA have warned of a crisis in literacy and have implemented numerous programs to encourage reading. In a preface to the new report, being released shortly before Gioia steps down after heading the endowment for seven years, he cites a nationwide effort and says the results demonstrate that "our faith in positive social and cultural change was not misplaced."
But the preface does not mention a countertrend: a drop among people not obligated to read. Adults who read books - fiction or nonfiction, online or on paper - that were not assigned by a teacher or employer dropped, with the fall greatest among those younger than 55.
And while the number of adults who say they read a nonrequired book is 3.5 million higher than in 2002, the report notes that the total adult population increased by 19 million, meaning an increase in the number of people who didn't voluntarily read books of 15.5 million, a huge disparity confirmed by National Endowment for the Arts research director Sunil Iyengar.
Gioia said the report is essentially positive but added "we're still in a culture in which all kinds of reading are under pressure" from other forms of leisure and entertainment.
The NEA report is based on a sample of more than 18,000 adults.