For some years now, Scandinavians have been the world champions in reading. However, an inverse phenomenon seems to be taking place in the USA. Americans are reading fewer and fewer books each year, according to the Gallup Institute. And it's a statistic seen across several social classes.
Why aren't we reading anymore? American journalist Caleb Crain asked himself this question for the New Yorker in 2007. Fourteen years later, the Gallup Institute is providing some answers. It turns out that Americans read, on average, 12.6 books in 2021. That's three fewer books than in 2016.
While reading is declining in the United States, the percentage of American adults who do not engage in this activity is stable. Seventeen percent said they did not read any books last year, down from 18 percent in 2016. Only a quarter of those surveyed remain literary enthusiasts and said they have read more than ten books in the year.
This growing disinterest in reading is particularly striking among demographic groups that are often thought to be bibliophiles. Young graduates lead the way. They read, on average, seven fewer books last year than between 2002 and 2016.
Is reading as a pastime losing steam?
The Gallup Institute found the same phenomenon among American women. In the past, they read twice as many books as their male counterparts. That gap has now narrowed. They immersed themselves in 16 books in 2021, compared to 19 between 2002 and 2016. American men, on the other hand, are far more consistent with their reading habits.
Another demographic group turning away from literature is adults over 55. While it is often said that they are more likely to pick up a good book than younger people, this is not necessarily the case these days. They devoured, on average, 12 books in 2021, one less than Americans aged 18 to 34.
Is the decline in reading related to the constraints imposed by the pandemic? The Gallup Institute isn't sure. "It is unclear from these data if the declines in book readership are occurring because of a lack of interest in books, a lack of time to read books, or perhaps COVID-19-related disruptions in lifestyle activities or access to books," its website states.
However, Americans seem to have abandoned reading long before the health crisis began. Gallup asked them in 2020 what they thought an ideal evening looked like. For a third of respondents, it's mostly about spending time at home with family. Only 6% of respondents mentioned reading... Hopefully the return of book clubs and #Bookstagram will remedy this.