Over the past 12 months, many people around the world have turned to books for comfort, distraction and escape. But not so much in the United States. A new study reveals that nearly a quarter of Americans over the age of 18 did not read a book in whole or even in part last year.
This is one of the unfortunate knock-on effects of the pandemic. Americans have not taken advantage of the various stay-at-home mandates to take up reading, according to a survey conducted between late January and early February by the Pew Research Center. And this observation holds no matter what the format: paper book, e-book or even audio book.
While Americans' lack of interest in reading has fluctuated over the years, the trend is not improving. In 1978, the Gallup Institute found that 42% of American adults had read 11 or more books in one year. At that time, 13% of them even said they had devoured more than 50 books. Nearly half a century later, the conclusion is clear: the American bookworm is an endangered species.
A national bibliophobia?
But who are the millions of Americans who ignore books? They are a more diverse group than one might imagine. According to the Pew Research Center survey, several demographic traits are linked to not reading. Among them is educational attainment. Adults with less than a college education are much more likely to have not read a book in the past 12 months than those with a college degree (39% vs. 11%).
Americans of an ethnic minority tended to read less last year than whites. A surprising trend for African Americans given that the Pew Research Center claimed in 2014 that, in the United States, the person most likely to read a book -- regardless of format -- was a Black female with a degree.
The study also found that Americans over 50 read less than their younger counterparts (28% vs. 19%). One might have expected this to be the demographic group most attached to books, but it seems a number of them suffer from bibliophobia, not unlike Donald Trump. Journalist Michael Wolff explored the former US president's reading habits in his bestseller, "The Fire and the Fury," in which he claimed that "Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate."