The other day, my husband told me a shocking statistic:

42% of college graduates will never read another book after they graduate.

Truly, I was shocked.

I thought, 42% just stop reading – for the rest of their lives?

This implies only 58% of college graduates read books beyond their graduation.

I couldn’t believe it. I had to investigate.

I managed to find the shocking statistic at a site called “Statistic Brains” under their Reading Statistics page. I took a snapshot of the page in case it disappears from the web:

web_imageIn case you can’t read the image above, here are the numbers:

Total percent of U.S. population that has specific reading disorders 15%
Total percentage of american adults who can’t understand the labels on their prescriptions 46%
Total percent of young people who claim they read more than 10 books a year 56%
Total percentage of U.S. adults who are unable to read an 8th grade level book 50%
Total amount of words read annually by a person who reads 15 minutes a day 1 million
Total percent of U.S. high school graduates who will never read a book after high school 33%
Total percentage of college students who will never read another book after they graduate 42%
Total percentage of U.S. families who did not buy a book this year 80%
Total percentage of adults that have not been in a book store in the past 5 years 70%
Total percentage of books started that aren’t read to completion 57%
Total percent of U.S. students that are dyslexic 15%
Total percentage of NASA employees that are dyslexic 50%
Total number of U.S. inmates that are literate 15%

Kind of bleak. (And just a tad interesting that 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic, huh?)

When I tried to find the source of these numbers, all I got were other blog sites listing some of the more news-worthy numbers from the above list.

I think I smell an urban legend…

Okay, so the numbers as stated on Statistics Brain are probably bogus, but the reason the numbers scare me is that I have noticed most of the folks I know do not read books.

Oh, they may read the newspaper, and a magazine here or there, but not books.

Within my family, I am the only avid reader. If I stretch it, I can count my brother among me as a reader because he’ll read whatever non-fiction I recommend to him. I guess he averages about three to four books a year, in contrast to my 24 to 32 books a year.

Alby Reading
Alby Reading – Can I count my dog?

Among my extended family (my husband’s side, whom are somewhat more educated than my family), my brother and I are joined by one other (who happens to read erotica – there’s no way we can compete with their voracious reading habit).

So, out of 13 adults (seven in my family, six in my husband’s family), we have three, regular readers. That’s a measly 23%, even worse than the 58% statistic above.

I guess, correct or not, that 58% is a good thing, and should be pleasantly shocking?

As part of the The Pew Research Center’s investigation on American internet habits, some interesting statistics can be gleamed from their comparison of readers shifting from printed books to ebooks.

In their The rise of e-reading, Part 2: The general reading habits of Americans; the statistical picture is a bit more hopeful and a little more complicated.

In 2011, 19% of adult respondents in their study admitted to reading no books in the previous 12 months.

That’s hopeful, right?  That means 81% of adults did read at least one book that year, college graduate or not. Woohoo!

However, their numbers also show that ‘no books read’ has grown. Among similar respondents in 1978, only 8% noted their read no books in a year. Again, if we reverse the statistic, we can deduce that over 90% of adults used to read at least a book a year. It is sad to see that though the study goes on to show that e-book reading is on the rise, over all, reading appears to be on a slight decline.

I suppose, I need to encourage every member of my family to read and read more often!

On a completely different note, the Pew Research Center study also included a write-in question. Respondents were asked to tell what they liked most about book reading. Here are some of the answers:

…a stress-free escape…

…diverting, entertaining and educational…

It draws me away from reality.

…takes you away, like a movie in your head.

…it’s a good way to have an adventure.

Whatever the numbers tell us, I know one thing – we should all be reading more to lose ourselves in an adventure.

Until next time, read.

30 thoughts on “READ

  1. That’s a bit disappointing, especially for those of us who have yet to be published. Another sad thing is that other countries have us beat when it comes to education and reading. We’re dropping down the line on that front, and it’s a sad trend.

    1. It is a bit of a sad trend, but it is also heartening (not nearly as bad as the first statistic my husband quoted, which is probably something made up on the internet). Also note that the Pew Research Center study that I cited focused primarily on the rise of e-books (and hopefully the rise of e-book reading). 🙂

  2. Interesting post. If those stats are true, that’s pretty sad….(And it answers the question, “Why do so many people do so many dumb things?” haha) Too much reality TV, not enough reading.

    When I go into someone’s house, I look around for their books and/or reading material. That tells me a lot about who they are…

    1. I do the same thing! Though I try not to make it too obvious. The funny thing is, for most homes that I go in, the TV is front and center. Hard to find a home that has a library or even book shelves (with actual books on them). Of course, with the rise of e-books and tablets, folks may still be reading, just not in print form anymore (but I doubt it).

  3. In a way, maybe the post-1978 decline isn’t so bad. When you consider how many more choices we have for engrossing TV and video games today, it might be a good sign that annual reading numbers haven’t slipped any further.

  4. Like you, I could only come up with a few avid readers in my and my husband’s families, and I’m one of them. (And we have big families.) It seems many people prefer TV for their escape. I enjoy TV as well as a means of winding down at night, but to me, a book remains the best form of escapism.

  5. I found some stats a little while back stating that reading had gone up since the availability of e-readers. Combining both reports there might be a case that amongst people who enjoy reading, the ready availability and relative cheapness of the ebook has encouraged them to read more but amongst everyone else, it has dropped off significantly?

    1. I think that is the case. If you read the Pew Research Center study that I cited (The rise of e-reading), that’s exactly what their numbers show. Those who read, are choosing to read via a some sort of digital device.

  6. The Dumbing Down of America urban legend.
    Here’s a statistical sample of no inherent value:
    One son reads; one son doesn’t.
    Daughter-in-law reads; daughter-in-law doesn’t.
    4 of 5 grandsons read; one doesn’t.
    Granddaughter doesn’t.
    All have cell phones; all grandsons play video games.

    Of the reasons given for reading in your post:
    …a stress-free escape…
    …diverting, entertaining and educational…
    …It draws me away from reality.
    …takes you away, like a movie in your head.
    …it’s a good way to have an adventure.
    All can be satisfied with a smart phone. I think the statistics you quote are missing the question. If the question is how do you escape? then answers would all be towards the 100% range. Everyone wants an escape; debating the technology used may be worthwhile to marketing types, but for measuring the preserving sanity skills of a population, the means of escape is probably more important.

    That said, if a democracy depends upon an educated public and an educated public depends on reading; then….

    1. Ha! I never said America was getting dumber (though, that is debatable!)…just that less people are reading books (printed or digital). Now, that’s not to say they are not reading other material (game narratives?).

      I do agree about the forms of our entertainment seem to be ever evolving. We all used to go to the theater a lot more. And before that, prior to the proliferation of books, we all sat around and told stories to each other. When was the last time ya did that?

      It can definitely be said that our general entertainment habits change over time.

  7. I believe this Nila, and for those that do read, a large portion of them only read non-fiction. It does appear younger people are reading more since the Harry Potter phenomenon, so at least that’s promising.

    1. That Pew Research Center study did confirm that: younger generations are reading more than adults (except the very elderly). However, I think that may have to do with the fact that much of their reading is assigned in school (fiction or non-fiction).

      And, yes, I think you are right about most folks who do read, tend to read non-fiction. (Ack! Our audience is dwindling…)

  8. My little corner of the world is pretty reader-heavy but I couldn’t begin to provide statistics other than that everyone in my immediate family reads, although my youngest takes some prodding, at times.

    I think Nate is right on, though: there’s lots more ways to spend free time now than at any other time in history. For instance, my kids don’t really get the concept that if you miss the yearly showing of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, that was it until next year 🙂

    1. I guess, for writers, it is a good thing I’m not into video games or TV. They have at least this reader they can attempt to woo into spending time in their story-worlds. 🙂

  9. While ways to access the written word have evolved, the author’s craft has yet to catch up. I’d like to know the stats on those classics from the 1800’s from Amazon.

    I’ll add this: technology has improved the dramatics of theater (this includes video games). Perhaps it’s be the responsibility of today’s authors to craft a dramatic shift in narrative content, than just ride the wave of technological advances.

    1. Wow – Carl. You are right!

      I know a few kids who want to be video game writers and while I nod to them in encouragement, in my head, I’m thinking, yeah, right, you’ll never get a job doing that.

      But maybe they are thinking ahead of me. Since they spend about every waking hour playing video games, maybe they already foresee (or are creating) that ‘dramatic shift’?

    2. Interesting thought, Carl- I do think there are writers working in other media. For instance, some of the better CRPGs like Mass Effect or Dragon Age clearly have decent writers doing the dialogue and story. The trouble is, those writers have a lot of tail to them, meaning, to enable a story like Mass Effect (which I haven’t actually played), takes 100s of other people doing graphics, modeling, sound, etc.

      There are also other media for writer that are better from a ratio point of view. I’ve seriously considered playing around with the new Neverwinter Nights engine where I could create me own adventures, including multi-path “plots” and dialogue. Having done game scripting before, I’m not daunted by laying out my own dungeon and creating character scripts. But I have stayed away so far from it because it would pretty much consume my free time and put an end to my other writing activities and I don’t see a good way to monetize this activity. I could see doing a little of this at some point as a marketing exercise, but probably after I’m more conventionally established. I’m sure there will be some who create a writing career directly from something like NWN but it seems to be a lower probability path to me at this time.

      Also from just the point of view of honing my craft, with NWN, I would be spending 10% of my time on writing type activities and 90% of my time programming a game engine. I wouldn’t be doing much for my writing craft.

      There will certainly be other writing venues but many of them will have a small writing component and a large programming or other content creation component. No doubt fun for some people but not necessarily well suited for most writer’s aptitudes or interests. One could certainly provide the writing part of a larger project and that might be interesting as a salaried position or significant contract.

      1. So, as far as you know, there are not “regular” video game writer gigs? The games essentially allow the gamer to write the story?

        Over on the forums of, I have noticed that a video developer will come along every now and again asking for writers to join their team. Not sure if that is an increasing trend, so simply an occasional request that crops up now and then.

        It seems to me, if you can develop a game, that same developer could write the story for the game, no? Or is there more to it than that?

        (Maybe I should go play one of those games…)

      2. There are plenty of games where the content is written by the game developer but those tend to be forgettable settings 🙂

        There are some games where there is a real story arc (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Secret Age). Player actions matter to varying degrees. Mass Effect supposedly did a lot to have your actions affect the story except for a major fail with the ending of the 3rd and final installment which seriously pissed off its player base.

        In The Secret Age, I’m told you’re actions don’t matter much except to unlock the next step of the story but it is supposedly a great story. Most of these story driven games must use professional writers, I’m guessing. Not sure what type of gig it is though. It’s probably worse than writing a story in someone else’s setting (like a Star Trek novel).

  10. I’d rather read like you. That is what I do. I am beyond intelligent for doing it. I have a book reviews blog that is very successful. I read for college right now but on an avg day I read one book. I go nutty if I cannot read, organize or analyze. Great stats.

    1. I review as well. Hello fellow reviewer and welcome to my blog!

      I do like to read far better than watching a movie or TV show feels. They feel…lazy, somehow. I don’t feel like I am invested in the story when I just watch it. It’s like I am watching someone else have an adventure. When I read, I feel like I went on an adventure.

      I’m glad you like to read, too. 🙂

      1. You are right about adventure, when I read I go into a “zone” like state and I enter into the story. My imagination makes it even a better story. Since I love almost all types of books what is cool is I can take a romantic story and turn it around in my head to be a horror story. Now that is what I call reading. I timed myself I can read 167 pages in two hours with complete understanding, have you ever timed yourself?

      2. I’m a slow reader. It takes me forever to get through a book, even one I really really like. If I’m really into a book, I could probably do 167 pages of reading in about three days, fours a day, so more like 12 hours. But I can’t do that straight through and I’d have to really really like the story.

        You go, girl!

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